Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bacon Cheddar Tater Tots

Today, I make good on a promise I made a couple of weeks ago, and boy am I glad that I held myself to that promise. I don't know how/when I had the idea for these, but it was likely one of the more brilliant thoughts I've had in the last few months. These sort of evolved as I was making them. First, I decided that I wanted to make a big batch to have a homemade version of frozen, ready-to-bake tater tots. I've been trying to make meals and snacks to freeze, but not of the frozen-mystery-vegetable-casserole variety. I've made some pizza, now these tater tots, and hopefully soon some dumplings and/or pierogis. It'll be a nice way to avoid eating either fast food or cereal on nights when I get home late.

I was watching Iron Chef as I made these (it's amazing how quickly I cook when vicariously afflicted with the anxiety of chefs who are asked to make 5 dishes in one hour), and as I was grating the cheese, I heard someone say "chives" and realized that I had a whole lovely chive plant just waiting for me to make use of it. So I threw some of those in and then realized I had basically created a baked potato in tater tot form (baked potater tots? Not my best). I also ended up going a bit heavy-handed when I was forming the tots, so they took a while to bake. No complaints on my part; my apartment smelled delicious.

The best thing about these is that they're homemade, which obviously means they're healthier, right? Feel free to serve yourself a double serving.

Bacon Cheddar Tater Tots
Yield: About two half-sheet pans' worth (~60 large tater tots)

2 lb red potatoes, scrubbed
5-6 slices of bacon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (~2.5 oz) grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp minced chives
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp flour, as needed

  1. Pierce the potatoes several times with a fork and roast on a baking sheet at 400 F until easily pierced but not mushy.
  2. While the potatoes cook, chop the bacon and cook over medium-low to medium heat until crispy. Set aside to cool somewhat. Now is a good time to prep the rest of the ingredients (mince the garlic and chives, and shred the cheese).
  3. A few minutes before the potatoes are done (or once you remove them from the oven, if you didn't time it right - no big deal), prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Plunge the potatoes in the ice bath, changing the water/ice as needed. You really want to make sure the potatoes are fully cooled before mixing everything. I did the first batch of these with warm potatoes, and they were super sticky. Of course, this didn't help them stick to each other to form tots, just to stick to my hands. For smaller potatoes, the ice bath will probably be enough to cool them. If you have large potatoes, like I did, keep them in the ice bath for a while, then shred them and allow to finish cooling1.
  4. Turn the heat up to 425 F. Shred the potatoes2 (no need to peel unless you're picky about that) on the large holes of a cheese grater, and combine in a large bowl with bacon, garlic, cheese, and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that bacon is very salty and your cheese may be as well, so taste before salting.
  5. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Form the potato mixture into little nuggets about 1.5 inches long and 3/4-inch tall for large tater tots, or about 1 inch long for regular sized tots, and place on the baking sheet. You don't need to leave much space between them since they won't expand. If you're working with thoroughly cooled potatoes and really can't get them to form properly, you can add up to 1-2 tbsp flour to bind them.
  6. Bake at 425 for about 30-40 minutes (until nicely browned on the outside), flipping halfway through. You may need to adjust your cooking time based on the size of your tater tots, so just use your judgment. There's no raw meat or eggs, so it's largely a function of how crispy you prefer them.
  7. Serve plain or with ketchup (a classic), sour cream (to complete the baked potato theme), or, my favorite, with garlic aioli.
  1. Science fact! Smaller things cool faster than larger things (made of the same material) because they have a higher ratio of surface area to volume. The more surface area you have, the more contact you have with the cooler air, allowing you to lose heat faster. That's why the small potatoes can cool mostly/completely in the ice bath, and also why shredding the larger potato will speed up the process considerably.
  2. If you didn't peel the potatoes, you'll likely end up with most of a potato's worth of skin at the end (it seems to tend to just peel back as you grate). Don't chuck them! Season generously with salt and pepper and fry over medium high heat in the leftover bacon fat. Potato skin chips!

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