In my family, the golden-crisp, spud-studded nuggets were a weeknight go-to. And though a cluster of tots may not seem like the most proper side dish alongside my mom’s creamy, vermouth-spiked slow-cooker chicken with steamed broccoli, it worked for us (and it was much easier than boiling potatoes and mashing them!). Tots were also a lunchtime staple, sometimes crunchy, sometimes soggy, always tolerable cafeteria comfort. I loved tots at their best and at their worst and that’s true love, right?
Recently, I’ve noticed that tots have enjoyed a renaissance on Pinterest boards, Instagram feeds, and hip blogs. But instead of embracing the convenience of this freezer-to-oven-to-plate power starch, a lot of cooks tout their own homemade versions of the nostalgic treat.
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I don’t tend to shy away from a quirky internet trend. But when it comes to matters of the tot, I’m not looking for an arts and crafts project; I’m looking for the weeknight dinner hero I grew up with. For me, tots are about ease and indulgence.
You might be thinking, “Wow, Grant, you can really tot the tot, but can you walk the walk?
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Yes. Yes, I can.
But rather than completely reinvent the tot, I wanted to give the frozen version a makeover that’s as easy as it is unexpected. Rummaging through my spice cabinet, I happened upon a favorite ingredient of mine, the perfect candidate for perking up a bag of frozen tots: Szechuan peppercorns.
While the tots were baking away, I blitzed the tingly pepper in my spice grinder with red pepper flakes, dried garlic, and salt. I gave the coarse spice mix a whiff. My lips puckered, my mouth watered, and my stomach got butterflies.
I tossed the warm tots with the spice mixture and gave one a taste.
For a second, my life was a page out of a comic book. Upon initial crunch, the sharp spice was a one-two power punch, followed by a tingling sensation that lingered. I ate another, smacked my lips. They were dangerously addictive.
But to cool them down a bit, I mixed up a quick dipping sauce of mayonnaise and sesame oil. (This, of course, isn’t necessary, but I highly suggest it.)
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