Crispy, Crunchy Tater Tots Are a Weeknight Superhero

May 21, 2018

I’m an unashamed fan of tots. We go way back.

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?

Tater tots and I go way back. Photo by Julia Gartland

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?

Another Weeknight Wonder

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.)

My love affair with tots has been reignited, thanks to Szechuan peppercorns! Who knows what I’ll find next in my spice cabinet? Any suggestions?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ttrockwood
  • FrugalCat
Grant Melton is an Emmy Award-Winning producer, recipe developer and food writer. His favorite food is chocolate chip cookies (with salt.)


Ttrockwood May 24, 2018
I didn’t have tots as a kid but certainly appreciate them now on occasion-especially these crazy “totchos” one bar serves piled with everything you can imagine.
Obviously i need to make some at home like these!
FrugalCat May 22, 2018
I brought tots to a block party. My mom had given me a 3 section veggie dish from the 50's. I filled the middle with ketchup, one side with ranch dressing and one side with applesauce. The kids went crazy over it and so did the adults.