They’re crispy on the outside, they’re soft on the inside, they fit perfectly in the palm of your hand, they taste amazing with ketchup or mayo or whatever “secret sauce” you want to use … yeah, we’re talking about tater tots. These freezer champions, equally beloved by picky kids and the parents prepping their dinners, are having a real moment right now, with restaurant and bar chefs taking them out of the home kitchen and revamping them with bold toppings and inventive culinary techniques. This newfound appreciation for the humble tot brings us pastiche dishes like “totchos” (aka tater tot nachos,” which inevitably become the star of any party snack spread.
Our love of totchos led us to wonder: what other unique uses can we find for tater tots that are easy enough to replicate at home? We took this question to the experts (professional chefs, of course) and rounded up 8 tater tot creations well worth adding to your repertoire.
If you want to give your tots an upscale makeover perfectly suited to fancy Sunday brunches (or to binge-watching The Crown in PJs while downing mimosas or Bloody Marys … #nojudgment), try this tip from cookbook author and culinary blogger Virginia Willis: “One super-sexy way to use tots is to “waffle them”’ then treat them like blini, topped with creme fraiche and caviar. [Or, you can top them with] thinly sliced smoked salmon or sablefish with capers, finely diced red onion, and hard-cooked egg. Or, of course — since meat and potatoes are a perfect match — thinly-sliced beef with horseradish cream and chives.”
Bacon and tater tots both occupy critical positions in the Junk Food Hall of Fame, so of course it makes total sense to merge their powers. Chef Sven Rusch of Wonderland Ocean Pub likes to accomplish this task by layering a square of sharp Cheddar cheese on top of a frozen tot, wrapping them in a slice of bacon, dredging the package in brown sugar, and baking for 20-25 minutes. “Topped with a Sriracha-honey glaze and served on a toothpick, these are ideal for a passed appetizer,” Rusch insists.
Fans of sweet-and-salty flavor combos will love this next suggestion from chef Jae Lee of Nowon in New York City. Lee tosses his cooked tots in a mixture of honey and melted butter, then places the finished product on a layer of labneh (a soft Middle Eastern cheese similar to strained yogurt in flavor and texture) and tops the plate with dried seaweed. “I was inspired by bagged chips that were a craze in Korea: honey butter chips. I figured [that] tots and chips are both made of potato, [so] why not? I put them on top of a bed of tangy labneh to balance the sweetness of [the] honey, and [then I add a] dust of seaweed seasoning for umami,” Lee tells The Manual.
Translating the flavors of beloved dishes into a platter of tater tots takes some ingenuity and a keen sense of humor. Corporate executive chef David Young of American Dining Creations in New York employed both when developing his Reuben-Style Tots, inspired by the hallowed deli sandwich (and NYC classic) that shares its name. “Start out with your base of perfectly crisp tots [and] top with melted Swiss cheese, corned beef (brisket or pastrami) and sauerkraut,” Young explains.
Another brunch spin on tater tots combines two widely adored food items: Crispy potato nuggets and Hollandaise sauce. Nashville-based food and lifestyle blogger Charlotte Boehms of Confessions of a Thrifty Mom tells us that “I love to bake tater tots until crispy, add cheese curds and broil until browned, and top with a poached egg and hollandaise and garnish with green onions for a filling breakfast.”
Tater tots are close cousins of French fries, so any dish based around fries proves easy to adapt for tots, including the indulgent, gravy and cheese-laden French-Canadian specialty known as poutine. “I love to use tater tots in a spin on a poutine! I sprinkle a generous amount of braised short ribs atop the crispy tots and melted cheese curds, which adds the perfect chewy texture! For added flavor, try topping it with pickled vegetables and you have an amazing appetizer or entrée. For added flavor, try topping it with pickled vegetables, and you have an amazing appetizer or entrée,” recommends executive chef Christina Stanco of Central Kitchen & Bar in Detroit.
Thanks to their small size and flexible shape, tater tots make excellent accoutrements to sandwiches, wraps, and hot dogs. “Würstmacher” (aka sausage-maker) Adam Gertler of Dog Haus says that “tots are often seen as sidekicks, but by adding them directly to [a hot] dog, [you can] add an unexpected crunch to what is typically a very standardized dish.” Recently, Gertler worked with Anthony Sasso, the former executive chef of Casa Mono in NYC, to create a “Tot Dog” for the Dog Haus menu, featuring an “all-beef dog, extra-crispy tater tots, celery salt, coleslaw and Haus barbecue sauce, served on grilled King’s Hawaiian rolls.”
If you’re the ambitious type, you may feel tempted to eschew the bag of tots in your freezer in favor of a homemade version. The good news? Tater tots aren’t difficult to make from scratch. The even better news? Creating your own tots gives you the opportunity to mix in texture-rich and flavor-rich ingredients, boosting the quality of your snack. “One of [my] favorite ways of using tots is to showcase local and seasonal ingredients in the tots themselves. [For example,] right now, we [have] rutabagas [in season]. We cook them with potatoes and then fold them with gelatin, pickled mustard seeds, and herbs [before frying]. The rutabaga gives [the tots] this funky root-vegetable flavor that’s delicious. We serve them with a deviled-egg dip that’s rich and creamy. A delightful combo for sure,” chef de cuisine Zechariah Perez of Sour Duck Market in Austin tells The Manual.
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