Tater Tots, and more!
Tater tots, believe it or not, didn’t come onto the culinary scene until the early 1950’s, making them only slightly younger than Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. While the iconic shape of the Ore-Ida Tater Tots, and the somewhat later in time perfectly shaped hash browns at McDonald’s are what most envision when ordering tater tots or hash browns, it’s the widespread popularity of tater tots as a happy hour staple that piqued my interest. Looking for a Bloody Mary and a snack before catching a plane from LaGuardia back to Dallas, my daughter and I stopped at Tiny’s on West Broadway in NYC. The tater tots were cubed!
One of the nice things about tater tots is that if you have a potato, some salt and pepper, you have everything you need to make them. For snacking or as a side, count on one medium potato per person (Russets seem to work best).
Peel, then parboil the potatoes for about 10 minutes; let them cool to the point where you can handle them.
Grate the potatoes on a box grater into a bowl or, if you’re comfortable doing so, onto your work surface. The potatoes will vary from soft to somewhat firm, which is what you want.
Add salt, pepper, and any other ingredients (your choice). Using your hands, thoroughly mix it all together. And there you have it – a springboard to tater heaven!
TRADITIONAL TATER TOTS: If you’re going the traditional route, you need only shape them, put them on a lined sheet pan, and put them in the freezer until ready to fry. Putting them in the freezer gives you a head start on maintaining the desired shape. If you want, and before you put them in the oil to fry, you can coat them with flour (I have a current preference for rice flour, as I think it gives them a little more crispness on the outside).
Your oil should be fully heated before you start frying; the desired temperature range is 350-375 degrees. Too low, and they tots will be oily; too high, you won’t finish cooking the potato. Fry them in batches until they reach a rich, golden brown, drain, cool, and eat.
CUBED TATER TOTS: To make them as cubes, line a sheet pan with parchment, and spread the potato mixture to a uniform thickness; how thick is up to you, but I’d not go more than an inch. If you have two sheet pans,, put parchment on the top of the dough, then put a second pan on top. Tamp the top pan a bit to smooth out the top of the mixture, then put it all in the freezer.
You’re not going to want the dough to be frozen so hard that it breaks up when you cut it; the first time you do this you’ll need to experiment a bit to see how long the potatoes need to be out of the freezer for optimal cutting. But once the dough is ready, use a very sharp knife to cut the dough into squares so that the resulting cube is uniform. Coat them lightly in flour, then fry, drain, cool, and eat, just as above.
Now, the really fun part. Unless you like your potatoes plain, seasoned only with salt and pepper, you’ve got choices and choices.
- Ranch dressing or a similar dressing or sauce – have toothpicks handy – is one way to go.
- Before mixing, you can add chives, cheese, and bacon bits for a loaded baked potato taste, which you can dip in sour cream for the fully loaded effect (probably want to thin the sour cream just a bit with milk or cream to make dipping easier if you go that route).
- For something a little fancier, go the fully loaded route, arrange the tops on a serving dish/platter, then pipe a small dollop of sour cream on the top of each to finish. Loaded baked potato appetizers! (Honestly, depending on how many cubes you make, make them plain and freeze what you don’t need; you can put sour cream on the top and use that to hold whatever you’d like to sprinkle on it – bacon, chives, cheese – you name it.
- A slight touch of garlic powder will give you a ‘garlic mashed potato’ taste.
- If you like truffled mashed potatoes, finish the tots with a light sprinkling of a truffle salt.
BREAKFAST (HASH BROWN) POTATOES: Follow the directions for cubed tater tots, stopping at the point where you cube them. The sheet of frozen potato that you take from the freezer can be cut however you want to make breakfast potatoes. Rectangles make for a nice presentation, as do sticks (think fish sticks). Circles are nice, but you might end up with some unusable bits and pieces. Triangles are fun, too. Once cut, fry them as you would tots. ENJOY!!!