Tater tots are a form of hash brown, developed by the Ore-Ida company in 1953. They are especially common in the United States, where they often appear in school lunches and at fast food restaurants. Outside of the United States, they can also be found labeled as “oven crunchies” or “potato pom-poms.” In addition to being available in some restaurants, these little cylinders of potato are often found in the frozen foods section of supermarkets, for consumers who would like to make them at home.
The name for the food emphasizes the small size and playful shape of tater tots. In American slang, “tater” is another word for a potato. The word is used in many parts of the American south, although it is reasonably well known in the rest of the country as well. A “tot” is a small child, and the word could have been used to reference the size of the food, or the fact that it is frequently served to children. Alternate names for the food include “potato tots,” for the more formally minded, or just “tots” as a form of shorthand.
To make them, potatoes are shredded and then compacted into bite-sized logs. Initially, they were developed as a way of using up the remainders from French fry cutting. The grated potatoes are then deep fried, so that they acquire a crispy exterior. Ketchup is a common accompaniment to tater tots, although other condiments may be used as well, depending on the region. Some cooks also prefer to bake the cylinders, making them a slightly lower fat food.
The fried potatoes tend to be especially popular with children, since they are designed as a finger food. Some adults also enjoy them, in part because they are a nostalgic food, evoking childhood memories. Variants may be made with other root vegetables as well, for a more interesting flavor, and they also sometimes appear in other shapes, such as flattened discs. Tater tots are also famously included in some classic American foods, such as the Midwestern hotdish.
It is certainly possible to make tater tots from scratch, although many consumers prefer to buy them frozen for convenience. The potatoes should be peeled, and then shredded or coarsely grated. The resulting potato shreds can be compacted by hand into the desired shape, and then fried or baked, depending on personal taste. Including a small amount of flour will help the potatoes to stay together, while adding salt and pepper spices up the flavor.