We recently found that our nostalgia for frozen tots, like many kid-friendly foods, outshone the reality. Determined to right this wrong, we hit the kitchen in search of potato tots with a golden, crunchy exterior and light, fluffy interior. Many recipes simply mix coarsely ground potato with flour and egg, but these tots fried up into raw, dense nuggets. Parcooking the chopped potato in the microwave was a step in the right direction, but the tots were still too heavy. Reducing the flour and omitting the egg helped, but the tots were still not light and fluffy. To minimize the gluey texture of potato starch, we tried processing the potatoes with water. Perfection. This step rinsed off the excess starch, and a small amount of salt in the mixture kept the interior downy white.
- 4 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 4 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
Adapted from cookscountry.com
1. Whisk 2 cups water and salt together in bowl until salt dissolves. Working in two batches, pulse potatoes and salt water in food processor until coarsely ground, 10 to 12 pulses, stirring occasionally. Drain mixture in fine-mesh strainer, pressing potatoes with rubber spatula until dry (liquid should measure about 1½ cups for each batch); discard liquid. Transfer both batches of potatoes to bowl and microwave, uncovered, until dry and sticky, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.
2. Stir flour and pepper into potatoes. Spread potato mixture into thin layer over large sheet of aluminum foil and let cool for 10 minutes. Push potatoes to center of foil and place foil and potatoes in 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing it flush to pan. Press potato mixture tightly and evenly into pan. Freeze, uncovered, until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat oil in Dutch oven over high heat until 375 degrees. Using foil overhang, lift potatoes from pan, cut the potato rectangle in half crosswise, and then cut each half into 1 1/4 by 1-inch pieces (6 cuts in 1 direction and 8 in other). Fry a quarter of the potato tots, until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally once they begin to brown. Drain on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Bring oil back to 375 degrees and repeat three more times with remaining potato tots. Serve.
Make Ahead: Cool fried potato tots, transfer to zipper-lock bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. To serve, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place potato tots on rimmed baking sheet and bake until heated through, 12 to 15 minutes.
KEYS TO MAKING TOTS AT HOME
Yes, ours are more work than commercial frozen tots—but they taste so much better.
DRY After chopping, we drain the potatoes, which removes starch that would otherwise make the tots gluey and heavy.
FREEZE We parcook the potatoes, add flour, and press into a baking pan to freeze briefly. Now the tots are easy to cut.
CUT We lift the firmed-up mixture out of the pan and cut the tots—it's as easy as slicing brownies.
TEST KITCHEN PRIMER: DEEP FRYING
THE IDEAL OIL TEMPERATUREMost foods are fried at 350 to 375 degrees. But the oil temperature drops when food is added, so you have to adjust the burner to keep the oil at the right temperature.
THE RIGHT TOOLSWe like to fry in a Dutch oven because its relatively low sides allow good visibility and easy access. A metal slotted spoon or "spider" skimmer makes it easy to remove food from hot oil.
THE PROPER FINISHDrain food on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and season it hot out of the oil.