Tater Tots long ago jumped from supermarket freezer cases to restaurant menus. Many chefs make their own, and home cooks can as well, thanks to recipes like this one from Portland-based Lara Ferroni's "Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats without All the Junk."
The Brothers Grigg had just started a frozen food company to make, among other things, french fries. But what to do with the scraps of spud left behind? These potato pieces were too small for proper fries, but there were too many of them to be discarded. One day in 1953, F. Nephi Grigg came up with a delicious solution: He chopped up the potato scraps, shaped them into bite-size cylinders, then fried them golden and crunchy.
Thus were born Ore-Ida Tater Tots.
As the last almost 60 years have proved, Grigg’s little brainstorm — a plug of shredded potato 1 1/2 inches long, 7/8 inch in diameter — has been an enormous success. An estimated 3.5 billion Tater Tots are eaten by Americans every year, according to Max Wetzel, associate marketing director for Ore-Ida.
Tater Tots are so golden they have morphed from brand to cultural phenomenon. Tater Tots and its imitators long ago jumped from supermarket freezer cases to restaurant menus across North America. Many chefs make their own; home cooks can as well, thanks to recipes like Lara Ferroni’s “Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats without All the Junk” (Sasquatch, $19.95).
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Ferroni, an Oregon-based food writer, doesn’t remember much junk food in the house as she was growing up in southern Georgia, but “there was always a bag of frozen Tater Tots in the freezer.” While Tater Tots bring back childhood memories for her, they also have a very adult connotation as well.
“I live in Portland now, and you’d be amazed at how many bars have Tater Tots,” she said.
Ferronilikes to grate a little sweet potato or yam into her tots. She also keeps the potato skin on to preserve more nutrients. Her recipe, adapted from Cooks Country magazine, calls for corn flour and ground millet flour; substitute whole-wheat flour if you prefer.
Makes about 54 tots
2 pounds russet potatoes (5-6 medium potatoes) washed and cut into chunks
1 medium sweet potato or yam (1/4 pound),washed and cut into chunks
2 cups cold water
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons each corn flour,
2 teaspoons ground millet flour
Pinch cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Safflower or peanut oil, for frying
1. Place the potatoes in a food processor. Pulse 5 or 6 times until coarsely ground.
2. Combine the cold water and 2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Add potatoes; stir to coat. Drain well through a fine sieve, pushing out as much water as you can.
3. Transfer the potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl; microwave, 4 minutes. Stir; microwave, 4 minutes. Stir in the corn flour, millet flour, cayenne and remaining ½ teaspoon salt.
4. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment; pour in the potato mixture. Spread it evenly; cool to room temperature. Chill in the freezer until frozen, at least 20 minutes. Cut into 1-by-1 1/2-inch tots.
5. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a deep saucepan or skillet to 370 degrees. Fry the tots in batches, being sure not to crowd the pan, until tots are golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Remove the tots with a slotted spoon; place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Repeat with the remaining tots. Serve immediately.