I learned a word today: Nixtamalization. Sounds like that villain from Superman from another dimension who you can only stop by having him say his name backwards (that would be Mister Mxyzptlk). Actually nixtamalization is the difference between a corn chip and a tortilla chip. A tortilla chip is made using the nixtamalization process where the corn, or other grain, is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled making it more easy to grind while increasing its nutritional value, improving its flavor and aroma and reducing its mycotoxins. The cornmeal in a corn chip is not subject to that process. That’s why a corn chip is usually thicker and crunchier. The most notable brand in corn chips is of course Fritos, which literally means “fried” in Spanish. Fritos were created in 1932 by Charles Elmer Doolin in San Antonio who tinkered with a recipe from a local man who made deep-fried corn snacks from an extrusion of masa (cornmeal). Once Doolin perfected his recipe, he took it to market and a success was born. Doolin would later go on to invent Cheetos, so this man deserves to be in the Snack Food Hall of Fame with an honorable mention in the foul-breath Hall of Fame as well.
If you mention Fritos to people of a certain age (I am just past this age), they will tell you about the Frito Bandito, who was the playful, slightly-racist mascot of the Fritos brand in the early seventies. It was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc in an exaggerated Mexican accent and it included all the stereotypes of Mexican culture you could imagine. The campaign was stopped after much protest from the Mexican-American Anti-Defamation League. It’s kind of hard to believe this was even a thing, but it was and there are still people that can sing that song today.
When I told Lola that today was Corn Chip day, her face lit up with the thought of nachos coming later in the day. I had to tell her that those are tortilla chips, not corn chips. It’s hard to disappoint someone who just wants some nachos. I suppose you could make nachos with Fritos, it would just be slightly different. Anythings possible though. However I had already planned to make a recipe I had found online for Chili Frito Crescent Pie which was from a blogger by the name of Jim Hands. I got there through a search for ‘what to make with Fritos’, and this one seemed pretty good. I also happened to have made a big batch of chili on Friday, so I was looking for another way to serve it just to mix it up a little. That’s how it goes when you make a lot of chili in a house with only two people. The first two days you have your usual bowls of chili, but then you start getting tired of it. Usually on the third or fourth day, we will have chili spaghetti (which I think is a Cincinnati thing) where you serve the chili right on top of a big bowl of spaghetti. It’s actually awesome and something I look forward to, but not this time. This time we would make Frito Pie.
I feel like I cheated on Clements Market today. Sorry guys. It’s not you. It’s me. I just needed to see other people. At least for today. I bought my supplies at the Dollar General today. It was just easier and maybe even more appropriate for making a Frito Pie. If it gives you any comfort, I didn’t even shower before I went. I was dressed in sweat pants, sneakers with no socks, baseball cap and a hoody. I was there and back within ten minutes. Even the supplies I bought were all a little off. The Fritos had a Garth Brooks promotion advertised on the bag that had expired at the end of December. The spot underneath the label on the crescent rolls where you are supposed to pop them open was in the wrong spot. The sour cream was in a square tub. Everything was slightly off. That made me appreciate the quality of Clements, so don’t worry, I’ll be back. I’ll even shower.
It was pretty easy to toss the pie together. I reheated the chili in a pan. Meanwhile, I took the triangles of the crescent roll package and placed them around a pie tin with the points towards the middle forming a crust. Then I sprinkled some crushed Fritos along the bottom. I ladled the chili over that and then spread sour cream over the entire pie. Topped that with cheese and then finished it with more crushed corn chips. It went in the oven for about 20 minutes. About as easy as you can get (granted having the chili already made was a big help).
I let it cool for a minute but then cut in and it kind of kept its shape while I was serving it. I’m going to say this was damn good. Really. First off, not to brag, but the chili I made was one of my finer batches of chili. I think I added the right amount of seasoning or let it cook for just the right amount of time, so it was flavorful and tasty. That helps when constructing this pie. Like all chili, it’s great when topped with sour cream and cheese, so no surprise there. But, it was the crescent roll dough and the Fritos that gave everything a whole new dimension. The crescent roll gave you that element of fresh bread while the Fritos delivered the corn crunch, and it all melded together perfectly. Lola loved it too. I wondered if it would be better with some lettuce on top, but Lola thought it would start being too taco-like, and she was right. I do think that maybe the sour cream should be served cold rather than baked on top – I just felt like it needed some coolness to balance out everything. Either way, this was a great dinner and I highly suggest it for when you are looking to use up your chili. A great Super Bowl party snack too!
I discovered a great dinner tonight and that’s always exciting. I’ve been a fan of corn chips for a long time, before they were pushed aside for tortilla chips. I can picture eating them at parties when I was young, or eating some down by the water at our summer cottage with a can of Shasta cola in my hand. They’ve always had a special place in my heart, and they undoubtedly deserve this day of celebration. They also pair extremely well with chili which is something I forgot too. I think the future will hold more Frito Pies in store for us. It’s the sensible thing to do when you have too much chili. So thanks Fritos for all the crunch you give us and for making the world of snacks a little more corny.
Next Up: National Croissant Day