If you haven’t been watching Reservation Dogs, go and watch it right now. It’s a fantastically funny, tragic, and unique look at the most overlooked folks in America. It’s also proving to be a hell of a food show. The first episode featured a classic basket of fried catfish. Episode two had an entire storyline based around meat pies. Episode three had a throughline of venison backstraps (filet). Then episode four dropped and upped the ante. The episode opens with fictional Indigenous rapper Punkin’ Lusty’s hit rap video, Greasy Frybread (performed by real-world Indigenous rapper Sten Joddi), and I don’t think I’ve been the same since seeing it.
The music video is a celebration of all things frybread and explores the hold that famine food still has over Indian country (to understand another piece of this issue, look at inflated prices for necessities at grocers on Indian reservations). Message aside, the track is also one hell of an earworm that I found myself humming over and over this week. To break the spell, I realized I had to make some frybread at home.
I’m on the record as being very on the fence about frybread’s place in Indigenous cuisine. The food was born from the U.S. colonial genocide against the nations of the Southwest. 150 years later, it’s come to serve as a unifying food between most Indigenous nations across the U.S. and Canada, but it’s also a dish made from cheap, nutrient-free foodstuffs that wreak havoc on Indigenous health. Alas… I grew up with frybread made in the skillets of my uncles and aunties from the Skokomish and Yakama Nations and it holds a place in my heart — which I’ve passed onto my own kids, as well.
Sure, I know frybread isn’t the best thing for me or any Indigenous person (or any human). But I also love double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s and Neapolitan milkshakes from In-N-Out. At least in this case, my childhood nostalgia is inflected with memories of family at the stove rather than preservative-laden fast food handed out a drive-thru window. Point being, I treat frybread as just that, a treat — eating it three or four times per year.
If you want to try your hand at this Indigenous treat (made with famine rations), give my recipe a shot. Though it’s not good for you, it does make the perfect accompaniment to a Reservation Dogs binge.
- 1.5 cups AP flour + extra
- 1.5 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup water (or whole fat milk)
- 4 cups sunflower oil (or any vegetable oil)
This is a very easy quick bread recipe. I grew up using milk instead of water. Use what you like but I find that milk adds a little extra fat that helps the bread’s crumb edge more towards a light old-fashioned doughnut. Frybread is a bit like Sunday gravy or fried rice, every home has its recipe and no one’s wrong.
When it comes to toppings, that’s 100 percent up to you. Butter and jam, cinnamon-sugar, sesame seeds and salt, or full Indian taco mode are classic ways to go. As a kid in the Pacific Northwest, my favorite was a smear of peanut butter with a dollop of huckleberry or salal berry jam. I’ve also gone in completely opposite directions with cold smoked salmon, red onion, capers, and cream cheese. Hell, you can put tomato sauce, mozz, and pepperoni on it if you want.
The point is when it comes to frybread toppings, the world’s your oyster. Yes, I’ve also paired fry bread with fried oysters. It was delicious.
What You’ll Need:
- Large skillet or high-walled saute pan
- Wooden spoon
- Mixing bowl
- Fine mesh sifter
- Cutting board
- Cookie sheet with a wire rack
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in the sifter and sift into a bowl.
- Add in the milk (or water) and mix with a wooden spoon until a soft ball of dough forms. It should just come together but not stick to your hands. Use extra flour as needed.
- Divide the dough ball into four balls.
- Heat the oil in your skillet on medium-high heat.
- Flour your hands and a cutting board.
- Gently pull the dough into a disc using your thumbs around the edges and letting gravity stretch the dough. Pat out each round disc between your hands, making sure to keep the edges a little thicker than the middle (kind of like a pizza crust). Each disc should be able four to six inches across. Rest the discs on the floured cutting board.
- Gently lay the dough discs into the hot oil making sure to lay them out away from you. Fry one or two at a time (you don’t want your oil to cool).
- After about 90 seconds, the bottom of the frybread should be turning a light golden color. Use the tongs to flip.
- You might have to use the end of the tongs to splash some oil over the middle of the frybread to evenly brown it. Make sure to always do this away from you.
- After about another 90 seconds, the frybread should be golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on the waiting rack.
- Serve immediately with your topping of choice.
I mean… this is fried dough. How can it not be amazing? What I love about this recipe is that you get this lovely crisp edge and coating with a real crunch to it while the inside remains super supple and soft with a light heft.
I ate one of these with no toppings and I immediately wanted to eat another one. For me, it hits such a deep nostalgia note that it’s hard not to devour this food. Still, I saved the rest for my family. The biggest issue is that now I have a pan of frybread grease sitting on my stove. That means that I’m definitely going to be making frybread again this week. And I’m not mad at all about that.
Of course, if you’re going to make this recipe, you kind of have to listen to Greasy Frybread now. Good luck getting it unstuck from your head.