How to Make a Texas Chili That Works Great as Frito Pie


Illustration for article titled This Simple Texas Chili Makes an Incredible Frito Pie

Photo: Claire Lower

Hello, friends, and welcome to the first installment of the Skillet Chili Cook-Off. Let me start out by saying that this thing is probably going to go on longer than I initially intended. I know I said I would be picking eight (8) chili recipes to make, eat and ponder, but you simply sent me too many enticing entries.

Besides, I’m the boss in this corner of the internet, and I can make as many of your delicious chili recipes as I want to! I have no desire to limit myself (or you) to eight, and I won’t do it. Anyway. Let’s meet our first bowl of meaty wonderment: a simple, honest Texas chili.

I only know two things about Texas: They don’t allow beans in their chili, and their spiders are not to be trifled with. (My family lived in Texas briefly right after I was born while my dad was inspecting cattle or something. I got bit by a spider, and the mark did not fade until I was well into my teens.)

The “no beans” rule never quite made sense to me. As a maximalist who likes beans, I didn’t understand why the addition of a legume was so upsetting to so many people. But contributor The Notorious H.A.M changed my mind with their measured, gentle tone and simple, no-frills recipe. Was I influenced by the description of this chili as “rural,” and “working class”? Of course—I’m a communist from Mississippi. Did the words “limited-ingredients-by-necessity” give me a thrill? You bet it did. I’m a sucker for food that anyone—no matter their income or location—can make and enjoy. I also liked that H.A.M. said we could have pintos as a treat, if only as a side dish. This allowance demonstrates a flexible, but still principled, approach to eating and cooking.

There’s no need for me to re-type H.A.M’s detailed, clear instructions. I’ll just drop them here and meet you on the other side.

I followed H.A.M.’s instructions exactly, right down to the addition of the fish sauce and red wine vinegar, both of which added their own unique flash of subtle specialness in their own way (umami and brightness, respectively), but the chili would still be good without them. I didn’t feel the need to thicken the chili, so I omitted the Masa Harina, but I have used it in other recipes and can confirm it would work well in chili.

This chili kicks ass. It’s meaty and rich, but not too heavy, with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness. It was a little spicier than I was expecting, but that was a good thing. The heat ebbed and flowed with each bite, never obliterating my palate and always leaving me craving another bite.

My only note is that I recommend letting the chili sit overnight. The flavors really do develop and meld into something even better than the fresh-off-the-stove iteration. It’s truly worth the wait.

Again, I must highlight how accessible and easy this chili is. All of the ingredients can be found at any grocery store, and they are all extremely reasonably-priced (especially if you already have a halfway decent spice rack). The dried spices do a lot of work here, and they do it beautifully. The result is a something that tastes more nuanced and developed than most people would expect, and that’s a valuable lesson. I’m very guilty of “riffing” before even establishing a baseline, and this chili reminded me that sometimes simple is all you need. Honestly, it’s kind of a relief.

Oh, and you should definitely use this chili to make a Frito pie, and you should make the Frito pie with Whiz. It really is the platonic ideal of a sporting event snack, and I’ll probably eat it every day until I run out of chili.



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