Salt and Pepper Tater Tots — A Guilty Pleasure If There Ever Was One
If you had told me that one day I’d be stir-frying tater tots, I would have called you “crazy.”
But crazy can be mighty good.
And these sure are.
Put your disbelief aside, do yourself a favor, and make these “Salt and Pepper Tater Tots.”
If you’ve ever enjoyed the warm aromatics of Chinese salt and pepper shrimp or salt and pepper spare ribs, then you know the taste sensation you are in for.
This delightful recipe is from “Tenderheart” (Alfred A. Knopf), of which I received a review copy.
It’s the newest cookbook by Hetty Lui McKinnon, the gifted Chinese Australian cook and food writer who now lives in Brooklyn. She’s also the publisher of the multicultural food journal, Peddler, as well as host of its podcast, The House Specials.
It’s a sizeable cookbook with more than 180 recipes, all of them vegetarian. In a true testament to how appealing McKinnon’s recipes are, the first time I picked up one of her earlier cookbooks, I had bookmarked about a dozen recipes before it even dawned on me that the book was vegetarian.
Her newest book tempts with everything from “Choy Sum and Feta Galette,” “Cabbage Carbonara-ish,” “Torn Lasagna with Kale and Kimchi,” and “Lazy Spiced Butternut Tiramisu.”
“Tenderheart” is aptly named because it will touch you to the core. The book is a tribute to her father, who died when she was only 15 years old, but not before inspiring her lifelong passion and appreciation for fruits and vegetables.
Her father was a fresh produce supplier, rising at 3 a.m. every morning to work at what is now known as Sydney Markets, the largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Australia. Her fondest memories are of him returning home each day toting boxes of excess prized produce for his family to enjoy.
Her lovely prose captivates, and tugs at anyone who has ever lost a parent. “The reverberations of loss echo throughout our lives, in ways that we don’t expect. It’s a crack that keeps opening, a knife that keeps twisting,” she writes. “It is a dull ache that lingers in our soul. I have carried this memory of my father as the generous ‘fruit and vegetable guy’ close to my heart my entire adult life. It is a memory that fills me with pride.”
I couldn’t help but think of my own dad when I made this tater tot recipe. After all, he never met a potato that he didn’t like. Our freezer would regularly hold frozen hash browns at the ready for Sunday morning breakfasts. And his pressure-cooker scalloped potatoes were so sublime that I once ate a big bowl of it for dinner, and nothing else.
For this recipe, just bake store-bought frozen tater tots in a hot oven. Once they are golden and crisp, stir-fry them with finely chopped green onions and Thai red chile.
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle on the seasoned salt that’s made with five spice powder, ground ginger, white pepper, and a pinch of sugar.
The tots are crisp on the outside and creamy, custardy within. They are redolent of star anise and cinnamon with the sharpness of white pepper.
Simply put, they are little nuggets of joy.
I think my dad would have much enjoyed these tater tots, especially with their hauntingly familiar taste refashioned in a playful new way. I guarantee you will, too.
Salt and Pepper Tater Tots
1 3/4 pounds frozen tater tots
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 fresh Thai red chile, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
For salt and pepper seasoning:
2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the tater tots on a sheet pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the salt and pepper seasoning, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and, when it starts to shimmer, toss in the chile and green onion. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, until fragrant, then add the baked tater tots and toss for 2 minutes, until the gems are well coated.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve scattered with the salt and pepper seasoning to taste.
Note: The salt and pepper seasoning can be used to top roasted vegetables and battered tofu. Make a double batch and store in an airtight jar, at room temperature.
From “Tenderheart” by Hetty Lui McKinnon
More Hetty Lui McKinnon Recipes to Enjoy: Steamed Tofu and Trumpet Mushrooms with Ginger, Scallion and Soy