For me, the tater tot was primarily an institutional food experience. It began with school lunches, showing up at least once a week on the cafeteria menu. I’m also told by my sisters that they were in regular rotation in our family kitchen, though the details of what they were served with are not consistent.
Tots disappeared by my early twenties, when I became the master of my culinary destiny, cooking from scratch and hanging out with people who did the same. I ate plenty of fried potatoes, but probably went a couple of decades without a tot-like food entering my orbit.
So why resurrect the ‘tot’ as a food archetype? In some ways it feels like trying to make a Twinkie at home. It’s such an engineered food you have to wonder what would be the point?
In this case, it’s because the ketchup/potato axis is such a powerful food memory. And around the time I was thinking about comfort foods, the cauliflower was going through a peak of culinary interest, showing up in pizza crusts and cauli tots. I liked the idea, but nothing really clicked until I swapped onion for green onions, and then decided to try leeks.
Truth be told, this recipe is really just a template. If you’re missing one or more items, think creatively about what you do have and just give it a try. I’ve used rice instead of bread crumbs, gouda instead of cheddar, and greek yogurt instead of an egg. It all worked out.
Likewise, you could probably dip these in any number of things. But my favorite is Quick Qatsup.
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 medium egg
- 1 cup leek, chopped fine (use as much green as possible)
- ½ cup cheddar cheese shredded (that’s 1/8 of a pound)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley or other bitter green, like watercress, mizuna, or arugala
- ½ teaspoon fresh cracked white pepper
- olive oil
1Steam florets until just soft. Place on a plate to cool; you want them spread out because this allows extra moisture to steam off. Mash lightly with a fork or potato masher. You don’t want it creamy, just well broken up. Big chunks will disrupt proper tot formation.
2Microwave or steam the leeks until they begin to wilt. Fluff with a fork to allow extra moisture to steam off. Allow to cool.
3Combine all ingredients in a bowl. You want them thoroughly jumbled, but don’t want to put so much kinetic energy into the process that the bread crumbs start to break down.
4Using your hands form into tot shapes, of approximate tot size. Place on an oiled pan. I prefer a thinner steel pan because you get a bit more crispness. And while you can oil the whole pan, that feels a bit wasteful. I use a pastry brush to paint a parking space for each tot.
5Bake at 325. Check at about 10 minutes, and flip when the down side is golden. After you flip, you’ll get the best results if you lightly press down the tot with a fork or the back side of a metal spatula.
6The tots are done when you have two sides golden brown.