A few years ago, I pitched in on a friend’s short film, appearing as an extra in a couple of scenes, and helping out wherever I was needed behind the camera. If you’ve never worked on a film set, it generally consists of flurries of frenzied activity separated by long stretches of time spent sitting around, just waiting to be needed again. If you’re working as an extra, or “background,” as it’s called in the industry, you’ll more than likely be doing so in full costume and make up. On sets with massive budgets, background actors are kept in a staging area well away from the main action. There you can read a book, chat with your fellow actors, grab a snack, check your phone (assuming the production allows you to keep it with you), knit, play Candy Crush, or whatever you feel like doing to pass the time. On micro-budget sets, you (and most of the crew) are often hovering just off camera, tucked in between unoccupied C-stands or perched discretely on an apple box, doing everything you can to be as out-of-the-way as possible, and praying you don’t sneeze and ruin the take.
It was a relief, then, that my friend’s production, while small, was shot in locations that allowed us to (quietly) spread out a little. This was how I found myself spending most of an overnight shoot in the back of a swish Italian bistro, dressed to the nines (right down to the Spanx), and paging ravenously through a stack of food industry magazines I found just off of the kitchen. I’d never seen such a thing before, and reading them was a real insight into the business of running a restaurant. There were articles about upcoming food trends, news bites detailing which chefs had been hired where, featured recipes, advice on bookkeeping, and advertisements for everything from professional kitchen equipment to ingredients suppliers, and even, to my horror, frozen crab cakes.
One recipe in particular, tied to a lovely origin story that I have sadly since forgotten, caught my eye: Gruyere Tater Tots. Fellow home cooks, please tell me I’m not alone in occasionally seeing a recipe for something traditionally store bought and thinking, “Wait, you can *make* those?!” “Well, of course you can,” I usually chide myself with a smack to the forehead, “Where do you think they came from before big business got a hold of them?” The idea of homemade tater tots was one such facepalm for me, but adding cheese? Pure genius. I scribbled down some notes about the recipe, and within a week, I was making them at home, then riffing, trying them with different cheeses, bacon, etc. Not gonna lie; I was making them so often, I got burned out. Turns out there is such a thing as too many tater tots!
Recently, though, I got the bug to play around some more, and my Jalapeño Cheddar Tater Tots were born. They’re kind of a no-brainer, as far as flavor combos go (you really can’t go wrong with spicy and cheddary), and they’re simple to make, which makes them a great contribution to parties or game day gatherings. I love keeping them on hand in the freezer (see recipe for freezing instructions) so that I can break them out whenever I’m craving something crunchy. If you try your hand at them, please let me know what you think in the comments!
- 5 medium russet potatoes
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 jalapenos (seed just one if you like spice)
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 oz mild cheddar cheese
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Shred potatoes as finely as possible, using a cheese grater or mandoline.
- Place shreds in the center of a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth. Gather the corners of the cloth up into one hand so that the potatoes are covered completely and form a ball-shaped lump. Over a sink or bowl, twist the ball to wring as much moisture from the potatoes as possible.
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Roll into balls roughly the size of a globe grape.
- In a high-sided pot, heat about 4 inches of oil to 350º Faranheit and fry the tots, a few at a time, until they are a deep, golden brown.
- Transfer cooked tots to a tray lined with paper towels and allow to cool before slamming them in your face!
Dipping suggestion: These are great solo, but also work well with blue cheese dressing or my yogurt cumin lime sauce.
Storage: These can be kept in a plastic zip top bag. If you don’t expect to eat them all within a couple of days, they can be frozen. Just pop them in the oven straight from the freezer for 10 minutes at 450º Farennheit (or in a toaster oven at 350º).