Fry bread is a round and flat fried bread of Native American Navajo heritage. Today, we want to revisit the traditional recipe and prepare fry bread with sourdough starter instead of dry yeast or baking powder.
This sourdough fry bread is crispy outside and soft inside and has the most wonderful flavour.
If you love cooking and baking with sourdough, this easy bread recipe is a must-try. It's also perfect to use up your sourdough discard.
Keep reading if you want to learn more about the history of fry bread and how it's made, or head straight to the recipe below!
The origins of the fry bread are linked to a painful event in the history of the Navajo people. In the 19th century, the Navajos were forced to relocate from Arizona to New Mexico.
They had to undertake a long, 300-miles journey that came to be remembered as the "Long Walk".
Because they couldn't grow their traditional food staples in New Mexico, the US government supplied them with basic foods like flour, sugar, lard, yeast, and canned goods.
It's from these simple ingredients that fry bread was born: quick dough of flour, salt, and yeast stretched into discs and fried in hot oil or lard.
Our recipe is based on the traditional Navajo fry bread but uses sourdough starter as a leavener.
Feed the sourdough starter with water and flour as you normally do before preparing bread. Then, leave the sourdough to bubble and rise until doubled in volume and use it to make the fry bread dough.
Then, shape the dough into balls and let them prove for a few hours before stretching them into discs and frying them.
The great thing about this fry bread is that it can be served with sweet or savoury toppings.
You can try it with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup or spread it with jams or curds. Alternatively, you can use fry bread as a base for a "Navajo taco", as they do in Oklahoma and Colorado, and top it with salsa, beans, and avocado.
To make this sourdough frybread, you can use the leftover sourdough starter (called "discard") you would normally throw away before the next starter "feeding".
Make sure the sourdough starter is bubbly and active before starting.
You can test this by checking if the sourdough starter floats in water: drop a spoonful of starter in a glass of water and, if it floats, it's ready; if it doesn't, you need to leave it to rise for longer.
You can also "feed" your sourdough stater just for this sourdough frybread recipe.
Feed it as you usually do and leave it to rise and bubble until doubled in volume.
It can take from a few hours to 8-12 hours, depending on how warm is your kitchen and how lively is your sourdough.
Mix plain flour with salt and sugar in a bowl, then tip in the sourdough starter (1).
Work the ingredients with a spoon until they come together into a sticky dough.
Compared to classic bread dough, fry bread dough is moister and stickier, so you can't knead it by hand on a worktop.
Instead, keep working the dough inside the bowl until it's smooth and elastic (2).
Next, prepare a sheet of baking paper and dust it thoroughly with cornmeal or flour.
Then, grease your hands with vegetable oil and pinch off a small handful of dough.
Hold the dough piece in your hand and pull the dough edges up and toward the centre to shape it into a ball. Watch the video on this page if you need help with the shaping.
Then, place the dough ball on the prepared baking sheet and cover it with a towel while you shape the other balls.
Leave the frybread dough balls to prove covered for 1-2 hours at room temperature; they'll be more flavourful and puff more when cooked.
Now, pour enough frying oil to fill in a deep-sided skillet or pot by two fingers or 2.5 cm (1 inch).
Bring the oil to 190°C (375°F).
We strongly recommend you use a kitchen thermometer to check the oil temperature throughout the frying process.
If the oil temperature drops below 170°C (340°F), the fry bread will soak up too much oil and become greasy; if it goes above 190°C (375°F) instead, the bread will cook too quickly and may burn.
When you're ready to fry, lightly grease your hands and flatten one of the proved dough balls into a 10 cm (4 inches) disc.
Now, carefully lower the fry bread disc into the hot oil and fry it for about 1.5 to 2 minutes (1).
Then, flip it and cook it for 2 more minutes.
The fry bread should the puffed and golden (2).
We recommend frying only one sourdough disc at a time, or the oil temperature will drop too fast, and the bread will soak up too much oil.
Keep the oil temperature between 180°C and 190°C (355°F-375°F) by increasing or lowering the heat while you cook the fry bread.
Once ready, lift the fry bread, let excess oil drain, and place it on a rack lined with kitchen paper.
Repeat steps 5-7 until you have cooked all the dough balls.
Serve your delicious sourdough fry bread warm with sweet or savoury toppings.
You can find some tasty topping ideas in the tips section below!
Alternatively, you can use the frybread like a taco and make a Navajo style taco by topping it with spicy black beans, chopped tomatoes, and sliced avocado.