This bread is an easy and delicious one that pioneers learned from contact with Native Americans. It did not require yeast – simply the flour, salt and baking powder from their staple supplies and some oil in which to fry it.
The Long Walk: The History of Indian/Native American Fry Bread
The history of Indian fry bread stretches back to the 1860s. Between 1863 and 1866, thousands of Navajo were removed from their homes in the Bosque Redondo reservation and relocated. They were marched 300 miles from Arizona to present-day New Mexico. This journey became known as the Long Walk.
The land that they were moved to, wasn’t too arable so the US government gave them what became the staples of fry bread: lard, sugar, and flour as well as canned goods.
The secret is in not over-kneading the fry bread dough, otherwise it becomes tough – just work it enough to combine it then leave it to rest for a while. What you are looking for is that crispness from the frying on the outside and a soft texture inside with a nice golden brown color.
Native American Fry bread can be slit open and have stew placed inside, torn into pieces, and used to mop up the gravy from a venison stew, served like a taco with pulled pork, shredded beef and various vegetables on top or served as a sweet ending to meal with a dollop of cream, or double cream plain yogurt, and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey.
Fry Bread Recipe
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ cups tepid water It needs to be at around 105F (41C). Make it by mixing 2 parts cold water to 1 part boiling water.
- 1 cup oil sunflower, canola or coconut are good options
- In a medium size bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder.
- Make a well in the center, and add one cup of the water, drawing in the flour from the sides.
- Only add the remaining ½ cup of water if you see it is still too dry – the dough should be a bit sticky but not sloppy.
- Knead with floured hands to combine and smooth out the mix.
- Set aside to stand for a few minutes while you prepare the pan in which you will heat the oil to fry the bread.
- The oil should be about an inch deep across the bottom of the pan and should be hot –350 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer or simply take a tiny piece of dough and put it in the pan – it should start puffing up and sizzling immediately – if it sinks to the bottom the oil isn’t hot enough. You don’t want the bread to absorb the oil – remember crisp outside, soft inside.
- Cook one fry bread at a time for around 2 minutes, then turn to do the other side.
- Remove with tongs and place on a paper towel to drain the excess oil.
- Serve hot with the various toppings chosen.
Some people prefer larger fry breads – the ones here are only 5 inches across.
If you don’t want them puffing up too much in the middle then make a small hole in the middle with your finger – they will still puff up but look more like donuts.
If you want flatter fry bread, then use a rolling pin to press the dough out thinner – almost like pizza dough – but then they will be crispier and there won’t be the softness inside. Frankly, I prefer the round puffy ones.
Nutritional Value: Is Fry Bread Healthy?
As far as nutrition goes, it really depends on the portion size, and depending on where you look, you’ll get different numbers for calories, fats, and so on.
Something else to keep in mind is that it’s called ‘fry bread’ for a reason. It’s deep-fried in hot vegetable oil… very, very hot vegetable oil. Overdoing it on fried foods is not a good idea. The numbers in the table below are based on portions of fry bread that have been made with lard.
|152g (1 piece)||502||19g||11mg||500mg||73g||10g|
|1 Ibs. (454g)||1497||55g||32mg||1492mg||219g||30g|
Favorite Toppings and Fillings
One of the nice things about fry bread is the wide variety of toppings and fillings you can use. We mentioned maple syrup and honey earlier, here are a few more to try for a delicious fry bread meal:
- Sour cream
- Apricot/strawberry jam
- Powdered sugar – if you combine powdered sugar and apricot jam, you can make a jam donut – yummy!
- Cheese (add lettuce, tomatoes, and beans for extra flavor).
- Ground Beef
- Taco Seasoning
- Black olives
Tips and Tricks
- If you don’t have a whisk/mixer, a wooden spoon will do just as well for mixing the dough.
- Dry the fry bread portions with a paper towel and leave them to cool at room temperature.
- Store any extra fry bread in an airtight container.
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor.
Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.