Notes: You don’t have to be from the American Southwest to have been exposed, by now, to the insanity that is Frito Pie. In its simplest, trashiest form, a “Frito Pie” is made of a bag of Fritos corn chips split lengthwise, ladled with swampy beef chili, and sprinkled with shredded cheese. The heat and oil from the chili melts the cheese but somehow miraculously prevents the crunchy corn chips from turning into a cornmeal mash. The possibilities seem to spiral out from there, with some versions additionally sporting a full complement of chopped onions, jalapenos, lettuce, and sour cream, transforming the traditional Frito Pie into more of a mobile taco-in-a-bag, suitable for eating on the go. Y’know, while exercising in a crowded gym, or while rushing to your next business meeting.
My first exposure to the concoction was while living in the US Virgin Islands, of all places, where I was served the dish for school lunch while attending a Catholic middle school. I’m not sure who decided that serving 200 West Indian kids classic Texan junk food in 100% humidity was a good idea, and as I recall, it wasn’t particularly popular among my classmates. Having never seen anything of the kind, I wolfed it down, chased it with one of the plastic bags (???) of chocolate milk that the school’s cafeteria also served, and immediately ran home to ask my mom to make it for us for dinner. She politely declined.
Rather than recreate the classic here on these pages, we wanted to approach Frito Pie a little differently: By turning it into a grilled cheese sandwich.
Frito Pie Grilled Cheese
Adapted from a recipe on TasteSpotting; Makes 1 sandwich
- 2 slices white bread
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 handful Fritos corn chips
- 3 slices processed, pasteurized American cheese
- 1/4 cup supermarket or canned beef chili
- 1 tablespoon yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 slices fresh jalapenos
1. Butter one side of each slice of bread and place butter-side-down in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Top each slice of bread with 1 1/2 slices of American cheese and cover. Cook until cheese melts and bread browns, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Press a few Fritos corn chips into one side of the sandwich, nestling the chips down in the cheese. You may want to pick any particularly curly chips out, so they don’t disrupt the structure of the sandwich too much.
3. Top with about 1/4 cup of the chili. Don’t bother making your own; whatever is on the hot bar at the supermarket or something from a can will do just fine. Also, don’t go crazy and add too much. When eaten in sandwich form, a little bit of beef chili goes a long way. Finish with diced onions and sliced jalapeno, and top with other slice of bread.