SAN ANTONIO -- If it's football season, it's time to enjoy one of San Antonio's gifts to food: Frito pie, perhaps one of the most perfect dishes ever created.
It's the essence of simplicity: A scoop of canned chili on a pile of Fritos, topped with shredded cheddar cheese and maybe some diced onions and pickled jalapeno slices. The crisp onion adds a fresh crunch to that of the chips, while the chilies add texture and a vinegary tang.
It's a marriage of nature and technology, of fried and fresh -- and since the concoction incorporates the bag that holds the chips, it creates little waste and even is environmentally conscious.
The traditional version is a regular feature at local sports and church events, and a newer variation uses Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Now, Frito pie is taking its place on menus from food trucks to home-cooking eateries to the most upscale dining experiences in town.
Frito pie, like the puffy taco and beanburger, is inextricably linked with San Antonio. Both the Frito and Frito pie were created here.
The story goes back to 1932, when ice cream salesman Elmer Doolin bought a package of corn chips at an icehouse, and found the man who made them. He worked for Gustavo Olquin briefly as a fry cook and then paid $100 for the recipe, a customized hand-operated potato ricer and 19 business accounts. Doolin altered the recipe slightly and mechanized and patented the process for making chips.
Doolin also trademarked the name Fritos.
His mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, invented Frito pie, states writer Robb Walsh in "The Tex-Mex Cookbook." New Mexicans incorrectly claim it, Walsh adds, because a famous version of it was sold at a Woolworth's there until 1997.
That version uses chili made with New Mexican red chilies.
To show that it has crossed the line into new culinary territory, consider that New York chef and Michelin star winner Daniel Boulud raved about the Frito pie he had at a game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants in January.
He pledged to take some bags of Fritos back to France.
Makes 4 servings
2 1/2cups Chili con Carne (recipe follows)
4 cups Fritos
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup jalapeno slices (optional)
Chili con Carne:
4 pounds chili meat (beef chuck cut in 1/4-inch dice or coarsely ground)
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 cups canned whole tomatoes and their liquid
2-6 generous dashes of liquid hot sauce
Salt, to taste
For Frito Pie: Prepare Chili Con Carne. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Put Fritos in bottom of a small baking pan and spread Chili con Carne evenly over top. Sprinkle with onion, cheese and jalapenos, if desired.
Bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Use a spatula to transfer servings to a plate or bowl.
For Chili Con Carne: Saute meat, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until lightly colored.
Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, hot sauce and 2 cups hot water.
Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 1 hour.
Skim off fat while cooking. Add salt to taste. Makes 12 cups.
Per serving: 720 calories (60 percent calories from fat), 48 g fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 810 mg sodium, 35 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 37 g protein.
From "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" by Robb Walsh (chili recipe is called Lady Bird Johnson's Pedernales Chili)
FRITOS CHILI PIE
Makes 4 servings
1 (9.25-ounce) bag Fritos Original Corn Chips
1 (15-ounce) can chili with beef (with or without beans), heated
Chopped onion, to taste (optional)
Tomatoes, to taste (optional)
Lettuce, to taste (optional)
Jalapenos to taste
Sour cream, to taste
1 (8-ounce) bag shredded cheese
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In an oven-safe serving dish, pour in Fritos and spread evenly.
Heat chili and pour evenly over corn chips. Add any or all of the following, if desired: onion, tomatoes, lettuce, jalapenos and sour cream.
Sprinkle cheese all over and bake about 10 minutes or until the cheese is a little melted. Serve immediately.
Other variations: There are many variations of the Fritos Chili Pie. For instance, the Walking Taco uses the same ingredients as the Fritos Chili Pie.
However, as a fun and easy snack (usually served at fairs or sports events), the ingredients are mixed together in a small bag of Fritos Corn Chips instead of a dish. Don't forget the spoon!
Per serving: 750 calories, 50 g fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 1,150 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrates, 6 g dietary fiber, 26 g protein.