In the chips

Frito Slab Pie turns sin­gle-serve treat into a meal for many.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CATHY BAR­ROW

Scis­sor open a snack-size bag of corn chips, spoon in chili, cheese and sour cream and you have a walk­ing taco, aka Frito Pie. The birth­place of this per­sonal meal in a bag is un­clear — pos­si­bly Mex­ico, Texas or even a Santa Fe five-and-dime lunch counter. Re­gard­less, Frito Pie has be­come part of Amer­ica’s culi­nary ver­nac­u­lar. Quite sim­ply, this is a joy­ous food de­liv­ery sys­tem.

I’ve eaten my share of Frito Pies, and while I strug­gle to achieve the right ra­tio of chips to chili, I’ll never turn one down. Still, noth­ing else had sat­is­fied like that de­light­ful com­bi­na­tion of crunch, spicy heat and sweet corn — un­til I be­gan to dream of a bak­ing sheet filled with those tastes.

My Tex Mex Frito Slab Pie starts with a del­i­cate crust of corn­bread and lay­ers on chipo­tle-laced chili, plenty of sharp cheese and crushed Fri­tos corn chips. This is a fam­ily-friendly meal fit for a potluck, a neigh­bor­hood gath­er­ing or a foot­ball get-to­gether. It’s eco­nom­i­cal and easy to serve as well. It takes less than an hour to gather the in­gre­di­ents (many of which may be on your pantry shelves al­ready), heat the oven, stir up the corn­bread mix, make the chili top­ping, as­sem­ble the parts and bake.

While it’s not a com­plex recipe, it does in­volve some keys to suc­cess. Use a sturdy bak­ing sheet, the type with 1-inch sides. I tried mak­ing this pie in a dis­pos­able alu­minum foil pan. Dis­as­ter. This is a heavy pie. On an­other oc­ca­sion, I dou­bled up on the foil pans, but then the corn­bread didn’t crisp up.

Chili is the most fla­vor-packed com­po­nent in this dish, so it needs to be well-sea­soned — to the very edge of over-sea­soned, in fact. The corn­bread crust mel­lows the pie’s over­all taste, as does the cheesy layer, so that’s why you need an as­sertive chili. So go spicier but just slightly more salty, re­mem­ber­ing that this pie is topped with a car­pet of crushed chips.

Jiffy Corn Muf­fin Mix sub­sti­tutes for home­made corn­bread with­out a bit of shame. It takes two 8.5-ounce boxes’ worth to cover the bak­ing sheet, but when pour­ing the bat­ter into the pan, leave a lit­tle back in the mix­ing bowl or risk an over­flow­ing and abun­dant corn­bread crust. For the purists among you, there’s a no-sugar, from-scratch recipe, too.

Set out this pie with suit­able top­pings such as salsa, pick­led jalapeno, cubes of av­o­cado, diced red onion, lime wedges, sour cream and a fa­vorite hot sauce. Serve a crisp, crunchy salad on the side.

This is also an easy­go­ing recipe, sub­sti­tu­tion-wise. All beef or ground turkey can be sub­sti­tuted for the beef and pork com­bi­na­tion. Pinto beans can be used for a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion. Toss a hand­ful of pick­led jalapenos in with the grated cheese. Try na­cho-fla­vored chips in­stead of plain corn chips. Add frozen corn ker­nels to the crust bat­ter. A layer of roasted poblanos can be snug­gled be­tween the chili and the cheese.

You’ll need a rimmed bak­ing sheet or jel­ly­roll pan that mea­sures 13-by-18inches with 1-inch sides. The recipe can be halved. In that case, you’ll need a 9-by-13-inch bak­ing sheet with 1-inch sides.

This recipe can be baked ear­lier in the day, re­frig­er­ated and then re­heated to serve. Start­ing with a room-tem­per­a­ture pie, cover with alu­minum foil and warm in a 350-de­gree oven 12 to 15 min­utes. The chili can be re­frig­er­ated for up to 3 days in ad­vance, or frozen for up to a month. De­frost be­fore us­ing.

Have fun with my take on Frito Pie, whether you’re walk­ing or sit­ting down.

Tex-Mex Frito Slab Pie

For the chili:

½ cup chopped smoky ba­con or pancetta 2 medium onions, diced 1 pound lean ground pork 1 pound lean ground beef, prefer­ably

ground chuck 1 cup wa­ter 4 ta­ble­spoons tomato paste 1½ ta­ble­spoons sauce from canned chiles

in adobo 1 ta­ble­spoon an­cho chile pow­der 1½ tea­spoons kosher salt 1 tea­spoon smoked pa­prika 1 tea­spoon ground cumin ¼ tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon ½ cup chopped green onions (white and light-green parts) ¼ cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped For the crust: Soft­ened un­salted but­ter, for the pan 2 (8.5-ounce) boxes Jiffy Corn Muf­fin Mix OR 1 batch Plainly De­li­cious Corn­bread bat­ter (recipe fol­lows) 2 eggs (see note) ⅔ cup milk (see note) ½ pound Mon­terey Jack or sharp ched­dar cheese, coarsely grated 1 (9.5-ounce) bag Fri­tos, crushed Gar­nishes: Lime wedges Chopped cilantro Diced red onion Diced av­o­cado Sour cream or Mex­i­can crema Jalapeno slices, fresh or pick­led Hot sauce

Heat oven to 400 de­grees. For the chili: Cook the chopped ba­con in a large, straight-sided skil­let over medium heat un­til it is just crisp. Add the onions and cook un­til translu­cent, then add the ground pork and beef, break­ing it up with two forks. Cook un­til no pink re­mains in the meat, about 6 min­utes, then pour off and dis­card most of the ac­cu­mu­lated fat.

Add the wa­ter, tomato paste, adobo sauce, an­cho chile pow­der, salt, pa­prika, cumin and cin­na­mon. In­crease the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then re­duce the heat to low and cook 10 min­utes. Stir in the green onions and cilantro; re­move pan from heat. Let the mix­ture cool while mak­ing the corn­bread bat­ter.

For the crust: Brush the rimmed bak­ing sheet with but­ter, es­pe­cially in the cor­ners and up the sides.

Pre­pare the corn muf­fin mixes with the eggs and milk ac­cord­ing to the pack­age di­rec­tions, stir­ring with a fork un­til just com­bined in a mix­ing bowl. Lumps are OK.

Pour the bat­ter into the bak­ing sheet or jel­ly­roll pan, us­ing an off­set spat­ula to spread it evenly into the cor­ners. Scat­ter the chili fill­ing evenly across the corn­meal bat­ter, cover with the grated cheese and then top with the crushed Fri­tos. Don’t worry; it’s all go­ing to come to­gether.

Bake on cen­ter rack 22 to 24 min­utes, un­til the corn­bread is pulling away from the cor­ners and the Fri­tos are golden brown. If it looks like the crust will bub­ble over the edges, place a large sheet of alu­minum foil or an­other bak­ing sheet on the rack un­derneath.

Serve hot, warm or at room tem­per­a­ture with de­sired gar­nishes. Makes 24 serv­ings. Note: Omit eggs and milk if us­ing Plainly De­li­cious Corn­bread bat­ter.

This sim­ple corn­bread is quick to mix up and comes fast to the ta­ble. Use stone­ground corn­meal, which pro­vides the hearti­est corn fla­vor.

Plainly De­li­cious Corn­bread

1 1/2 cups all-pur­pose flour 1 1/2 cups stone-ground

corn­meal 1 ta­ble­spoon bak­ing pow­der 2 tea­spoons bak­ing soda 2 tea­spoons kosher salt 10 or 11 ta­ble­spoons un­salted but­ter, melted and slightly cooled 2 cups but­ter­milk 4 eggs, beaten

To use as crust for a Frito Slab Pie: Whisk the flour and corn­meal with the bak­ing pow­der, bak­ing soda and salt in a mix­ing bowl. Whisk to­gether 10 ta­ble­spoons of the melted but­ter, the but­ter­milk and eggs in a sep­a­rate bowl. Add the flour mix­ture to the egg mix­ture, us­ing a ta­ble fork to in­cor­po­rate just un­til the dry in­gre­di­ents are moist­ened. Lumps are OK. Pro­ceed fol­low­ing Tex-Mex Frito Slab Pie di­rec­tions.

To bake as reg­u­lar corn­bread: Place a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skil­let on the mid­dle oven rack; heat to 400 de­grees.

Mean­while, whisk the flour and corn­meal with the bak­ing pow­der, bak­ing soda and salt in a mix­ing bowl. Whisk to­gether 10 ta­ble­spoons of the melted but­ter, the but­ter­milk and eggs in a sep­a­rate bowl. Add the flour mix­ture to the egg mix­ture, us­ing a ta­ble fork to in­cor­po­rate just un­til the dry in­gre­di­ents are moist­ened. Lumps are OK.

Once the pan is quite hot, use the re­main­ing 1 ta­ble­spoon of melted but­ter to brush the in­side of the pan, in­clud­ing up the sides. Pour the bat­ter into the hot pan, slide it in the oven and bake 22 to 25 min­utes, un­til golden brown and a skewer in­serted into the cen­ter of the corn­bread comes out clean.

Let sit 5 min­utes be­fore serv­ing.

The Wash­ing­ton Post/DEB LIND­SEY

Tex Mex Frito Slab Pie com­bines a corn­bread crust, chili and corn chips for a crowd-friendly take on the clas­sic dish.

The Wash­ing­ton Post/GO­RAN KOSANOVIC

Plainly De­li­cious Corn­bread is de­li­cious on its own or as a base for Tex Mex Frito Slab Pie.

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