Fry Bread is a bread made by Native Americans, particularly by American Indians in the south-west.
It is sold everywhere as a fast food through the south-west, by natives and non-natives alike.
It is a flat-bread anywhere from 4 inches (10 cm) wide to as wide as a frisbee and is made from flour, salt, and a liquid such as water or milk, then fried up in melted lard or oil.
Fry Bread is chewy, puffy and doughy at the same time, though good Fry Bread won’t be too doughy.
You can make it with yeast or with baking powder. Baking powder, if anything, is probably more authentic. More elaborate recipes add eggs and butter.
Some people toss in a bit of wheat germ as a nod to healthier eating. Many recipes call for milk reconstituted from milk powder; other recipes just call for the milk powder to be mixed in with all the dry ingredients.
Mixes for Fry Bread are also available at stores that you just add water to make the dough.
Once the dough is made, you take pieces of it, and stretch, roll or pat them out into rounds. Some say it is traditional to make a hole in the middle, so that you could poke a stick through the hole to fish the bread out of the oil when cooked. Many people, though, now make it without the hole in it. You cook the bread in about 2 inches (5 cm) of heated fat, cooking for anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes, turning halfway through, until golden brown, then drain.
Fry Bread has now become a bit of a political football. Some natives now deride it as being bad, and the prime cause of diabetes among them, and is not even an actual native food.
Others counter that there are a lot of other factors that cause diabetes. In response to the cultural issues, they say that Fry Bread has become a kind of “pan-Indian” symbol, their young people think of it as Indian, and, to boot, people really love it.
Fry Bread can be used as a pouch to hold food in, or can be served with savoury toppings such as you would see on nachos or burritos.
It can also be served as a dessert with honey or powered sugar on it.
You can freeze leftover Fry Bread. Reheat briefly in the microwave.
Fry Bread is not actually a traditional American Native food.
In the American south-west at least, the natives may well have first come into contact with at least some of the ingredients from the Spanish, but with baking powder not on the scene until the mid-1800s, that would pretty much point to Fry Bread originating after contact with English-speaking American settlers.
Some say it’s a food that various Indian tribes starting making when they were forced onto reserves, and given US government rations as food. Others say that items such as wheat flour, cast iron pans, oil and baking powder were easy food items to obtain in trade. Metal pots are essential if you are going to deep-fry anything.
Literature & Lore
A recipe appears in print for Fry Bread in the Indian Cook Book published by the “The Indian Women’s Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma”, published 1933. There it was called “Squaw Bread”. While the word Squaw is now a very derogatory word, the woman who supplied the recipe actually was a Cherokee, and the club was a very “thinking club”, producing many publications and even counting among its members Rachel Caroline Eaton, one of the first Native American women to get a PhD (University of Chicago, 1921.)
Fry Bread is sometimes referred to by the name of a tribe, e.g. Navajo Fry Bread, Plains Indian Fry Bread, Apache Fry Bread, etc.
Linthicum, Leslie. American Indian activist raises ruckus over fry bread. Albuquerque Journal. 28 February 2005.