Eric Akis: Classic potato tots, made from scratch

Eric Akis

For economic, ethical and other reasons, finding ways to use vegetable scraps — rather than simply tossing them out or composting them — has been a trend the past few years. Books have even been written about it.

Over the years, the practice has led to the development of highly successful food products.

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One good example is Tater Tots, invented in 1953 by U.S. frozen-food company Ore-Ida, which was founded in Ontario, Oregon, along the Idaho border.

F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg started the company. One of the products the brothers first made was frozen french fries, but the cutting process left behind small slivers of potato too small to sell as a french fry.

There were so many, in fact, that the brothers needed to find a way to deal with them all. F. Nephi Grigg eventually found a fairly simple solution that, for their business, turned out to be a financial stroke of genius.

He developed a product that would see those leftover slivers of potato chopped, seasoned, shaped into bite-sized cylinders and fried until golden. He called them Tater Tots. Tater, of course, stood for potato, and tots means little ones.

Tater Tots were a hit with consumers and still are. Americans now consume billions of them each year. Over the years, sales were also bolstered by consumers who started incorporating Tater Tots into other dishes, such as casseroles and even burgers.

Other companies started making this style of potato product, and these days so have restaurants, which have found some inventive ways to flavour and serve them.

As you can see by today’s recipe and its step-by-step photos, you can also make your own potato tots at home. It’s not hard to do, but it does take a little bit of time to form them. But your reward will be a hot, golden and tasty potato treat.

My recipe does not make a huge batch, yielding about 24 tots. Try it and if you enjoy the results, double or further expand the recipe, tweaking the seasonings, if desired, the next time you make them.

If you do make a larger batch, the fried potato tots you don’t eat now could be frozen solid on a baking sheet, then transferred to a freezer bag. When you want some, heat the frozen potato tots in a 375 F oven 10 to 15 minutes, or until hot.

Golden and Tasty Potato Tots

Baked, peeled and grated potatoes, mixed with seasonings and a binder, fried until golden and tasty. The potato tots can be served as a snack or appetizer with a dip, such as ketchup, honey mustard or barbecue sauce. The potato tots can also be served as a side dish, for such things as your morning eggs, grilled steak or barbecued ribs.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 95 minutes
Makes: About 22 to 24 tots

2 medium to large baking potatoes (about 550 grams), scrubbed well

2 tsp cornstarch

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/8 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic

1/8 tsp onion powder

1/8 tsp smoked paprika

• tiny pinch ground cayenne pepper

• vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 375 F. Poke each potato a few times with a fork. Bake potatoes in the middle of the oven until tender and they can be easily pierced with the tip of paring knife, about 65 to 75 minutes.

Let potatoes cool 20 minutes; until cool enough to handle, but still a little warm. Now use a paring knife to peel, pull and slip off their skins.

Coarsely grate the potatoes into a mixing bowl. If the potatoes fall apart into chunks when you grate them, simply pick up the chunks and push them through the grater too. You’re not looking for perfectly grated potatoes here.

Add the cornstarch, salt, pepper, garlic powder (or granulated garlic), onion powder and paprika to the potatoes and mix well with a spatula to combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With your hands or inside a small cutter, shape 1 Tbsp of the potato mixture into a tightly formed, approximately one-inch wide, one- and half-inch tall cylinder. Place this potato tot on the baking sheet. Form the rest of the potato mixture into tots as you did the first one (see Eric options).

Preheat oven to 200 F. Heat oil in your deep fryer to 350 F to 375 F (see Eric options). Fry the potato tots, six to eight at a time, for about two to two and half minutes, until deep golden and piping hot in the centre. Check on them as they cook to ensure some have not stuck together.

When fried, drain potato tots on paper towel, and keep warm on a clean baking sheet in the oven until all are ready to serve.

Eric’s options: You can form the potato tots many hours before frying them. Tent with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fry them. If you don’t have a deep fryer, set three inches of oil into an eight-inch or so wide pot. Set over medium-high heat and warm oil to 350 F to 375 F. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that temperature. Fry potato tots as described in the recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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