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NWTK: Tater Tot Hotdish

Who among us doesn’t remember the gluey lunchroom hotdish specialties of our public school days? (I will admit, my Lustre compatriots know nothing of it, because they had hand-made restaurant-quality lunches their whole life. I know because I had them too when I went to school there. We did not have tater-tot hotdish at Lustre.)

Nevertheless, and while I did not particularly care for it as a child, it was a staple of my culinary landscape, growing up. So naturally, when considering what kinds of dishes would be tested in the New West Test Kitchen, tater tot hotdish had to be among them.

Tater Tot Hotdish (Tistylee)

As a mom, I adore dishes like this, as they are easy to make and eat and clean up.  However, I’ve discovered that my family doesn’t always react kindly to something new on the menu, so I’ve learned to downsize the recipe. This was the first time I’ve made tater tot hotdish for my kids, so I definitely wanted to keep the outcome small, just in case. In fact, when trying something new, I try to make just a bit more than my husband and I can eat in one sitting, plus one lunch leftover. Hard math to do, but if they don’t like it, I don’t want to be stuck eating the same meal for a week! And if they do, we can always have salad to fill out our dinner.

Here’s the original recipe:

1 bag Tater Tots
1 ½ lbs hamburger
Onion (chopped fine)
1 can green beans (drained)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheese slices
1 can Cream of mushroom or chicken soup

As I previously stated, I did half a recipe. First, I browned the meat with the onions and seasoned with pepper. Didn’t use any salt, as the cheese and soup will provide more than enough. Then I drained off the meat and let it cool a bit. Second, I mixed the burger with the cream of mushroom soup and green beans. Even though I was trying to make half a recipe, I did use the whole can of soup. It worked out okay. Third, after greasing my pan (original recipe calls for 9×13, but I used a glass bread pan), I layered some tater tots on the bottom. Then I put the soup/meat/bean mixture in the middle, threw some cheese slices on top of that, and then finished with a layer of tots on the top. Finally, I baked it at 375 F for 45 minutes.

YUM! It was terrific! Just I like I remember. The top tots were crispy and wonderful. The middle layer was meaty and beany and delicious. The cheese lent a sharpness while the soup sauce jazzed it up just enough to add some flavor. Despite the warmth outside, I could have just come in from the snow. Definitely nostalgic. My kids deemed it edible and ate more than their share. Will be a keeper, but I think I’ll save it for the winter time, after they come in from the snow.

 

Tater Tot Hotdish Updated (Beckatron)

As you can see, Kristy’s version was a success for her family, and a quick meal to make. I wanted to try out several things on this recipe (mostly because I despise tater tots, but also because I thought the method of preparation would allow for easy experimentation), so I didn’t cook the potatoes at all before I made the “hotdish”. Additionally, I used all fresh ingredients in my version. No cans, no bottles. So I had a little more freedom to change the preparation. Also, because I used four individual casserole ramekins, I could do four different iterations, but not have to make the recipe four times. All in all, it worked out very well. I will likely make it again to change a few more things, but all in all, I loved the way it worked out.

First, the ingredients I used:

hamburger
onion
potato
green beans
cream
flour
butter
baby bella mushrooms

Awhile ago, I’d purchased a set of Rachael Ray’s individual casserole dishes, which turned out to be 100% the right pick for this dish because I was able to do a little experimenting with how to put these together.

First of all, I sprayed them with different kinds of oil on the bottom. I have a Misto spray bottle, so I was able to put in some garlic olive oil and spray two of the bottoms. One, I rubbed with butter, and one, I sprayed with canola oil Pam. It turned out to be worth it to have the Misto spray bottle, because I could completely taste the difference.

Also, on some of the casseroles, I salted each layer, and on some, I didn’t. in the end, I think that salting the sauce and salting the meat was enough. The ones where I salted each layer turned out to be too salty, and it ended up being the potatoes and the meat that needed the salt, anyway.

I put the green beans on the bottom without cooking them. Excellent idea. They turned out to be al dente when cooked, and weren’t soggy. They added a nice crunch to the base of the casserole. Additionally, I didn’t cook the hamburger all the way through, because it was going to cook through in the oven. I did, however, cook it about halfway through, with the onions. And I suggest salting this, while it’s in the pan, cooking.

I made the mushroom sauce by hand, by making a roux (2 T butter and 1 T flour) and then adding cream. Be careful when you do this because it doesn’t seem to thicken when you add the flour to the butter, but once you add the cream, it gets thick fast. So I suggest to go easy on the flour when you have the butter in the pan, and then adding the cream until it’s thin enough. Then, add the mushrooms. You can cook them before or after, but I chose to cook them first, then add them (along with their juices) into the sauce. Don’t overcook the roux, but definitely cook it long enough to get the floury taste out. Otherwise, the sauce will taste more like flour and less like mushrooms. There are other mushroom sauce options, of course. And that’s what I plan to experiment with next time.

The roux would be able to be cooked longer if you can use clarified butter. Or bacon fat. I know, I know, but just try it.

Now, for the topping. Like I said, I’m not a tater tot fan. So I used three different kinds of potatoes. One was shredded. I used a cheese grater–it worked great. One was thin-slices on the mandolin. The other was half-inch slices (I used the cheese grater for this, as well). I think the half-inch slices would have been the best, if I’d cooked them a bit first. As it was, I couldn’t leave them in the oven long enough to cook those through. Perhaps if it had been all together in one big pan. But the individual ones weren’t holding up to the heat as well, and needed to be removed after about 45 minutes at 350. Even foil-covered.

I covered them in foil, and then cooked them at the end for about 10 extra minutes without the foil. Made the tops nice and crispy on the shredded potatoes, which made for a nice texture.

I would consider a little thinner sauce next time, because I think it would mix better. But these tasted exactly like the original version, only fresher. They were on the salty side, so I only ate about a bite of each one and had to throw them all away. Like I said, not a good idea to salt each layer. But the one layer I would make sure to salt is the potato layer. Maybe I would have cut back a bit on the earlier layers and then salted the top. Potatoes always need more salt than we think.

All in all, I would highly suggest the updated version. Lots of fun. Check out later NWTK episodes for updates on the testing.

What about you? What would you have done differently on either version? And if you do try one of the recipes, please let us know!

Tune in next week for: WEDDING PUNCH. :)

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