Native American fry bread was my latest culinary adventure. I got a cookbook full of southwestern recipes and this was the one that sold me on it. It’s a simple recipe, 3 cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup warm water, and oil for frying. It said 8 cups which is way more than my cast iron skillet would hold and I didn’t want to fry in my lovely new pot so I just did 4 cups in the skillet. I used corn oil because I have a big jug under my sink of it and wanted to use it up.
Apparently sopaipillas are the Mexican version of fry bread, and have a little sugar in the batter to make it slightly sweet, I may look up a recipe for that to try next. It’s just a bread recipe at first, mix the dry, add the water and mix again. It has to be kneaded a little so it’s soft, but the recipe is forgiving so you can add a bit of flour or water if it’s too stiff or sticky. It only has to sit for 15 minutes after that (it’s not really going to rise a lot.)
The recipe makes 12, so you divide the dough into 12 balls, roll them out into fairly thin circles (it said five inches diameter, I just rolled them until they were about as about as thick as a quarter, maybe a bit thinner, and that seemed to work fine).
Here’s where things got interesting. It said to poke a hole in the center so it will fry flat. I did that at first. I rolled out all twelve, poked a single hole, and staggered them on a cookie sheet next to the stove to I could do an assembly line of sorts. Unfried bread on the left, cast iron pan and 375 degree oil on the stove, a catch plate with paper towels on the right. I dropped the first one in and it sank to the bottom of the pan for a second before bubbling up to the top. For a split second they actually look like an upside down umbrella until they break the surface. The first one formed a couple large bubbles on the top, though the center was flat. I flipped it after about a minute and a half, so it was roughly 3 minutes per piece. This and the initial stiffness made me worried because they’re supposed to be fairly flexible so you can do tacos and stuff with them. I set it on the catch plate and after the second one also formed a big bubble on top I started poking more holes in the rest of them, making a sort of X. This stopped the large bubbles from forming.
Watching the bread fry was actually really fun. The oil was a bit high so the bubbles under the bread spit oil out onto the stove making a mess and the occasional bit of smoke. Every single one had a spot where most of the bubbles were coming from, so they all made slow trips around the pan like a turtle swimming (and farting out bubbles), or a wind up toy boat.
I ended up with a neat stack of fry bread and let them cool. Fortunately my earlier fears were unfounded as they become less brittle as they cool and bent easily enough. For the taste test I ate the first one which had big bubbles and just spread some prickly pear cactus jelly on it. The jelly looks dark at first but when you spread it there’s a frankly amazing vibrant pinkish-purple color. It almost looks like candy, but the flavor is fruity and lightly sweet. The second one I tried had butter and the jelly but really just a little bit of jelly was enough.
Lessons learned from this one: The central hole is necessary, other than that more will stop large bubbles, but it’s not needed. Don’t overfill your pot if you don’t want to have to clean everything. Fry bread is delicious and so is prickly pear cactus jelly, despite it’s bizarre coloring.
In the future I may try and find a sopaipilla recipe, as well as using fry bread for taco shells. It’s an easy recipe that makes a very filling bread. I ate 2 and was pretty satisfied.