Embracing the Tater Tot Casserole

By Laurie Sample

With Christmas being only a few short days away, I know I have a treat in store – visiting the in-laws! One of the things I love most about visiting my fiancée’s American family is knowing that they will, without fail, introduce me to a new and interesting dish. As a seasoned foodie, I never consider my stay in any country to be complete until I have tasted as many of its national dishes as possible. My motto in life, especially when it comes to food, is to be open to trying anything once. My future mother-in-law, an excellent chef who loves feeding people, is always more than happy to indulge my passion for unfamiliar cuisine. It was thanks to her efforts that  I had the pleasure of trying a dish known as the Tater Tot Casserole.

As you have probably gathered by now, I am not an American. I hail from England, where casseroles exist, but not of the tater tot variety. Actually, I had never even heard of tater tots until joining the in-laws at their Huntington Beach home earlier this semester. Fortunately, my fiancée was more than happy to share her knowledge of this American tradition. Tater tots, she explained, are a sort of miniature hash brown, a fare that is typically produced from the leftover potato shavings of manufactured French fries. Once balled together, these potato lumps are frozen, bagged, and sold to be microwaved at home. Though not a particularly appetizing image, tater tots are a staple amongst Americans and a special favorite for children of all backgrounds.

Thus enlightened, I grew mystified as to how frozen potato nuggets could figure into a casserole. It turns out, quite easily! Tater tot casserole is typically a combination of ground beef, cream of mushroom soup and green beans, topped with the eponymous snack and then buried under a thick layer of grated cheese. It’s simple, satisfying and economical! Though it gets a bad rap for being generally associated with the type of families featured in TLC shows like Honey Boo-Boo or 19 Kids and Counting,  for the money-minded student, it’s a perfect low cost comfort food. The  health-conscious among us can indulge in this meal too; organic, low-fat tater tots are available at Whole Foods.

Tater tot casserole is definitely one of the more uniquely American foods I’ve had since moving to California, though not the most bizarre. For me,  that award goes to the chili-cheese doughnut I once tried at a fundraiser. Horrible! To any visitor to the USA, I’d recommend trying tater tot casserole at least once, perhaps as a Christmas treat! While not as widely known as hamburgers or apple pie, it is a dish of which many of my American friends have fond memories (and full bellies).

If you’d like to try it, see here for the recipe!

Featured image by Clint McMahon on Flickr

Laurie just graduated from USC’s Teaching English as a Foreign Language. She is originally from London, but having spent most of her life as an expat, she has lived in thirteen countries including South Africa, Japan and Colombia. Her major passion in life is travelling. She has visited 54 countries to date, although her goal is to reach 100! She is a dedicated foodie and loves international cuisine. She has been a teacher since 2008 and says that the best part of her job is getting to chat with interesting people from different backgrounds.