Chef's Hat: Jazz up Tater Tots to serve as a side dish or appetizer

Or make the Midwest staple - Tater Tot hot dish

Photo contributed / Donna Evans

Crunchy potato tots with their fluffy insides are something we all take for granted. But these crisp, cylinder tidbits had a long journey before they made it to supper tables around the world.

The process began about 75 years ago when a man named F. Nephi Grigg wanted to find a way to use up the spare potato bits and pieces that remained in the french fry making process.

There was a lot of trial and error to get the machinery just right to obtain that cylinder shape. After experiments using numerous pieces of machinery, the Tater Tot was born.

But it wasn’t a food that found its way immediately into the hearts of inspired cooks. A restaurant owner had to be bribed to put these little morsels on the menu. But finally, what started out as leftover scraps caught hold and soon grew to a multi-million dollar industry with more than 3.5 billion tots sold every year.


Illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Maybe because of their long history, or maybe just because they are a unique food, there is a lot of fun trivia surrounding Tater Tots.

  • Tater Tots is a registered trademark for a commercial form of hash browns made by Ore-Ida. Any other cylinder type potato shape cannot be technically called a trademarked Tater Tot.
  • The original Tater Tot facility was located in Oregon near the border of Idaho. The name Ore-Ida is a combination of the first three letter’s of each state’s name. The original logo for Ore-Ida was an image that features both states.
  • In the early 1960s, the company was purchased by ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Company.
  • Tater Tots are the second-most popular potato item in the frozen food section.
  • Tater Tots were first available in stores in 1956.
  • There is a National Tater Tot Day - Feb. 2 is the annual celebration of these potato tidbits.
  • When Tater Tots were first invented, the Griggs needed to come up with a name, so they held a contest among their employees and their friends. Someone came up with the name Tater Tots.
  • Americans consume approximately 70 million pounds of Tater Tots every year.
  • Tater Tots are enjoyed worldwide. But the original Tater Tot casserole or hot dish did have its origins in the Midwest. The term “hot dish” was first used in a 1930 Minnesota cookbook published by the Grace Lutheran Ladies. So technically, the Tater Tot hot dish did originate in Minnesota.
  • Both french fries and Tater Tots are made from potatoes, so why do they taste different? Tots are potatoes chopped up into tiny bits, then mixed with seasonings and a binder. So their consistency and flavor is different from the typical french fry.

Tater Tots are good just baked and seasoned with a bit of salt or perhaps served with barbeque sauce. However, there are countless ways to use this potato tidbit in recipes. So why not experiment?
Try a new version of the old Tater Tot casserole or whip up a new appetizer for New Year’s Eve with this loved potato treat. Happy Eating!

Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Casserole

Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Casserole. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

  • 1 32-ounce package of Tater Tots
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 cup buffalo chicken wing sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese
  • ½ cup ranch dressing

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a large baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, just until the potatoes are golden brown.
While the potatoes are cooking, place the chicken into a large bowl. Add the celery seed, thyme, oregano and olive oil. Toss gently.

Place a large skillet on the stove and heat it to medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pieces should be golden brown on all sides. Add the wing sauce and stir to coat.


Remove the potatoes from the oven. Set the oven rack about 6 inches from the oven’s broiler and turn the broiler to low heat.

Spoon the chicken mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Place the pan into the oven and broil on low until the cheese is melted and slightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from oven and drizzle the ranch dressing over the top just before serving.

Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots

Bacon Wrapped Cheesy Tater Tots. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

  • 2 cups frozen Tater Tots
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into ¼-inch chunks
  • 4 slices bacon, quartered
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • Barbeque sauce

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Place the brown sugar on a plate.
Take a Tater Tot and place a chunk of cheese on top, then wrap it in a piece of bacon. Set aside. Repeat with the remaining tots. Dredge each tot in the brown sugar and press gently to coat the tot.

Place tots seam side down on the prepared baking sheet. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn it. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and serve the tots with barbeque sauce.


Tater Tot Bombs

Using just Tater Tots, cheese and bacon, make scrumptious Tater Tot Bombs you can top with various items and serve as a side dish or appetizer. Contributed / Donna Evans

  • ½ to ¾ bag of Tater Tots
  • ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • Choice of toppings - sour cream, avocado, salsa, green onions (sliced) or barbecue sauce

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a mini muffin pan (or regular sized muffin pan) with nonstick cooking spray. If using a mini muffin pan, place 2 Tater Tots in each cup. If using a regular sized muffin pan, place 4 Tater Tots in each cup. Bake for 10 minutes and remove pan from the oven.
Spray the bottom of a shot glass with nonstick cooking spray. Use a twisting motion to press the bottom of the shot glass down on the Tater Tots in each muffin cup to make a potato cup. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle cheese and bacon into each cup. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, just until the cheese melts.

Remove from the oven and place tots on a serving platter. Top with choice of toppings, such as sour cream and sliced onions, or avocado and salsa, or serve with barbeque sauce.

Donna Evans is a correspondent for the Echo Journal.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
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