When it comes to tater tots, what’s not to like? The little golden cylinders are perfect for small hands, and they’re at home alongside almost any main course. Which is why it’s a shame that more families don’t make them at home. It’s surprisingly easy, according to Dan Whalen, author of Tots! 50 Tot-ally Awesome Recipes from Totchos to Sweet Po-tot-o Pie (May 2018, Workman).
When he started researching the book, Whalen sampled iterations from restaurants, cookbooks, blogs, and more, but he couldn’t match the texture and flavor of frozen varieties. “Some homemade tots were more like potato croquettes with lots of stuff mixed in; others were more like latkes with long shreds of potato that were undercooked and overcooked at the same time,” he says. “The third variety of so-called homemade tots were really just mashed potatoes that had been breaded and fried. I wanted to cut through all the madness and develop the perfect homemade tot recipe, and this is it.”
Here are his tips for creating the perfect homemade tater tot—crunchy and golden on the outside, creamy and delicate on the inside.
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Simplify, simplify, simplify
Whalen’s recipe (below) calls for just two ingredients: potatoes and some fat. That’s right—no egg, no flour, no breadcrumbs. But he leaves room for improvisation: “The best part of making tots at home is being able to mix in other flavors,” he says. It’s a great way to involve your kids. Have them brainstorm some favorite flavor combinations, like bacon bits and shredded cheddar, then add them to the warm potato mix before forming your tots.
Invite kids to use their hands
To replicate that classic tater tot shape, hands are the best tool. And small hands are even better for forming the bite-sized tubes naturally (just make sure the blend is cool enough to handle).
It’s possible to fry or bake your tots
For the crispiest tots, frying in a heavy-bottomed pot is key, but you can achieve the texture in the oven with a mini muffin tin. “Because the tots have contact with the tin on most sides, they get nicely browned and crispy,” Whalen says. Keep the oven on after baking the potatoes in step 2 (below), grease the cups of the mini muffin tin with vegetable oil, and pack 2 tablespoons of the tot mixture into the bottom of each to form coin-shaped tots. Bake at 450° until crisp on the bottom and sides, about 20 minutes.
To replicate that classic tater tot shape, hands are the best tool.
Other vegetables can become tots, too
Whalen has successfully used broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, beets, and even apples to make tots, although it requires some fiddling with the original recipe. “When making tots with a vegetable that isn’t a potato, the main concern is starch content,” Whalen says. “Other veggies have much less starch, meaning they’re more likely to break down and fall apart in the fryer. Although I steer clear of using egg and breadcrumbs as a binder in my potato tots, with other veggies you need those to keep everything intact.”
Check out Whalen’s tot recipe below.
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