Bacon-Ranch Tater Tots

The kids are all back to school around here now, and I have to admit, I’m a tad jealous. I miss going shopping for supplies, picking up my textbooks, and just generally being a student. A majority of my friends were *so* glad to graduate and be finished, but not me. I’d go to school forever if I didn’t have to worry about pesky things like student loans and paying the bills :) I don’t know if I’ll still feel this way decades from now, but if I do, you can bet I’ll be taking some classes in my retirement!

When I came across this recipe for homemade tater tots a few weeks ago, it totally took me back to my school days. If tater tots are synonymous with one thing for me, it’s cafeteria food. I’m sure we probably ate the frozen ones at home sometimes too, but more than anything I remember them being scooped into their own little compartment on the lunch trays we used. I don’t really recall what they tasted like, but I’m probably not exactly going out on a limb to say I think this homemade version is better!

Bacon-Ranch Tater Tots

Unlike so many tater tot recipes I’ve seen, these do not start with leftover mashed potatoes, which is a good thing since we pretty much never have leftovers when I make them…

The tots were super crisp and crunchy on the outside yet wonderfully fluffy inside. Mine were, let’s say, rustic looking because I was rushing and left some larger pieces of potato than I should have in the process of making them. We were so busy devouring them I barely noticed until I went back and looked at the photos :) One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you can freeze the extra tater tots and reheat them for a quick snack or side anytime. They’re pretty much the definition of nostalgic, and a very fun occasional treat!

Bacon-Ranch Tater Tots
from Cook’s Country, October/November 2011

{Note: if you want to make plain tater tots, just eliminate the cider vinegar, bacon, onion powder, garlic powder and dill. No need to change the method.}

1 cup water
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 slices finely chopped cooked bacon
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups peanut or canola oil

In a measuring cup, whisk the water and salt together until the salt has dissolved. Add it to the bowl of your food processor along with the potatoes (you’ll need a large food processor for this – at least 11 cup. If yours is smaller, process in two batches.) Pulse 10-12 times, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are coarsely ground. (If one or two large chunks of potato remain, just chop them by hand.) Transfer the mixture to a fine mesh sieve set over a large bowl and strain out the liquid, pressing on the potatoes to release as much as possible (you should get about 1 1/2 cups).

Transfer the potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 8-10 minutes, stopping halfway to stir, until the potatoes are dry and sticky. Mix in the cider vinegar as soon as the potatoes have finished cooking.

Add the flour, bacon, onion powder, garlic powder, dill and pepper to the potato mixture. Stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a sheet of aluminum foil and spread in a thin layer. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line an 8×8-inch baking pan with a second piece of aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides. Transfer the potatoes to the pan and press into an even, tight layer over the bottom of the pan. Freeze (uncovered) for 30-45 minutes, or until firm.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200 F. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the oil into a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Heat to 375 F on a candy thermometer.

Use the foil “handles” to lift the potatoes from the pan. Cut into 48 pieces, making 6 cuts in one direction and 8 in the other (this is much more easily and neatly accomplished with a wet knife blade – I rewet mine after every few cuts). Add half of the tots to the hot oil and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. (The oil temperature will probably drop quite a bit, that’s ok.) Stir occasionally, but only after the tots have started to brown. Remove to the wire rack and season immediately with salt. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven to keep the tots warm. Return the oil to 375 F and fry the second half of the tots.

{Note: you can freeze the tots after cooling them completely. Just transfer to a resealable plastic bag and pop in the freezer for up to 1 month. To reheat, place the frozen tots on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes in a 400 F oven.

Makes 4 dozen