September 5, 2013

The Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole (and other kitchen things)

One of the most difficult things for an American living in France is coming to terms with the lack of American products. Near the top of the list of things I miss: Tater tops. Right up there with everything Reeses and Buffalo wings. Until about two years ago, that list included Oreos: rejoice, Frenglish friends! You can now find Oreos in every French supermarket. Hallelujah!

A few years ago, one of my aunts made an incredible potato dish that was so good, me, my sister, and my cousins ate it for every meal for almost a week. It was as good hot as it was cold, and reheating it did not ruin the flavor in the slightest. A true miracle of cooking. But to my dismay, upon my return home, I could not find the necessary ingredients to make the dish here in France.

Not like that ever held me back from anything. (except maybe the perfect cheesecake.)

Here's how to make a Tater Tot casserole from scratch! This recipe is a mix of/inspired by two others, along with my personal touch. So to give credit where credit's due: "Bacon-Ranch Tater Tots" (Cook's Country, October/November 2011) and "Tater Tot 'n' Cheese Bake" by Marcia Padilla.

For Francophones: 1tsp = Une cuillère à Café and 1 Tbs = Une cuillère à Soupe

Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole
Takes about 2 hours

You'll need:
2 Pounds (900g) Russet Potatoes
1 C (250ml) water
2 tsp salt
1 Tbs cider vinegar
2 Tbs Flour
1 Cup (200g) Bacon (Lardons)
1 tsp Garlic powder
Papper to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder (optional)
1 Tbs (20g) Butter
2 Eggs
2 C (500ml) Milk
2 - 4 cups Cheese (more on that later)

This recipe is in two steps - making the Tater Tots, then making the Casserole. You can easily freeze the finished tater tots to make the casserole another day.

  • If you're vegetarian, this can be made without the bacon. Substitute it with whatever you please, even nothing at all. You may want to add more salt, though: bacon adds a lot of flavor, and if you go without it the dish can end up a little on the bland side. 
  • You could use ham instead of bacon - but you'll put that directly into the casserole, instead of inside the tater tots.

Start by cleaning and pealing the potatoes. It's best to have a little more than 2 pounds, because you tend to loose a little during the process, even if you're careful. Slice them in small pieces - the smaller the better.
Mix the salt into the water until it has dissolved. Pour a food processor/ large blender and add in the potatoes. Use the pulse setting a handful of times, stop, mix, and start again. You want the potatoes to be in tiny pieces, but not a mash.
Once that's done, take them out of the processor, and squeeze them over a colander.  I did this in three batches. You'll want to squeeze out all that excess water. Move the dried potatoes into a microwave safe bowl.
Microwave on medium high (I used 650W) for 9 minutes. Remember to stir halfway through.

Meanwhile, start heating up your bacon. If you don't have lardons, chop up your bacon into small bits, not longer than an inch. Fry them gently on a medium temperature until they're crispy. Your whole kitchen has to smell like bacon before you're done. Pull them off the heat once they're just as you like them; put them on a paper towel to get rid of all that extra grease.

Pull the potatoes out of the microwave ( You'll know they're done if they're just a little sticky)  and immediately mix in the vinegar cider. Stir to help them cool. Then add the flour, garlic powder, paprika, pepper, and chili power. Finally, add the bacon.

Place aluminum foil on the bottom of a 8"x10" dish, and spread out the mixture, it should be about half an inch thick. Put the dish int he freezer for 45 minutes to an hour, until film, but not hard. Like the texture of your forearm if you poke at it.

Prepare your frying oil. You can use a deep pan or a fryer, it's your choice. I used peanut oil when I fried my tater tots.
Take the dish out the freezer and take out the aluminum. Slice the potatoes into small squares (no more than an inch/ around 2 cm) and drop them into the oil. Let them fry there for five minutes until the outside is golden. Put them on a paper towel to get rid of the excess oil.

You've made tater tots! At this point, you can either freeze them for next time, or start on your casserole. if you're in a casserole mood, preheat your oven to 350 F or 180 C.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, the eggs, and the milk. (I also added 50g of creme fraîche, Frenchies!)
Now you're going to want to add cheese. The initial recipe calls for 4 Cups, but I managed with 3. In my opinion, the more, the better! I used Emmental and Comté, but you can use any kind of hard cheese you like. Balancing white and yellow cheddar should do just fine. Leave a little bit for the top.
Add the tater tots to the mixture, and stir gently.

Butter a casserole dish and pour in the mixture. Top with cheese (I used parmesan) and pop it into the oven for 45 minutes. It should end up golden on the top, and a knife should come out clean.

Let cool before serving - the tater tots can hold in a LOT of heat.

And there you have it! This dish is perfect for freezing and pulling out for breakfast. It's great any time of year, and one of my favorite comfort foods.

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