The Less-Gross, Super-Tasty Tater Tot Casserole

As we settle into the long, cold, dark days that come with the final slog through winter, we — your pals from The Awl and The Hairpin — will be bringing you some of our favorite casserole recipes (and crockery recommendations).

I’m not really sure why I woke up one day and decided that I absolutely had to have tater tot casserole, especially because I’d actually never had tater tot casserole before? But such was the state in which I found myself one random Sunday last year. And, as one does in this, our modern age, I hit Google in search of a recipe to try out. Except that oh dear Lord, have you ever seen the recipes out there for tater tot casseroles? The ingredient lists alone would make you barf, much less the finished products. So I decided to tinker and came up with what I’d say is a less-gross-(though-still-kinda-gross-and-definitely-not-fancy)-but-seriously-super-tasty tater tot casserole.

Most of the recipes I saw online used pretty much the same ingredients: tater tots, cream of something soup, chicken, assorted other dairy-esque slop. If I was going to hack something up, I figured it was best to go full monty and pull apart a Paula Deen recipe. This was pre-diabetes announcement, and now it occurs to me that I should let her know how to make her own dish in a way that doesn’t cause a life-threatening disease.

The two main change-ups here were to cut waaaaaay down on the amount of fat that Paula used to pre-cook the veg and meat, and then to replace most of the full-fat dairy with reduced fat products used in smaller quantities. The finished product still ends up being creamy and tater-y and gloppy (in the good way!) without making you feel like you’ve got a lead pillow in your stomach, which is the effect I imagine Mizz Paula’s version would have on a person.

The only thing I’m not totally wild about with this recipe is that it requires pre-cooking, which annoys me in a casserole, even though I know that more often than not when talking about casseroles pre-cooking is part of the deal. I just feel like that shouldn’t be the case! But to be honest, this dish is so guiltily-but-not-really good that I can forgive the pre-cooking.

With that soliloquy on the nature of tater tot casseroles out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Dice a small yellow onion and fry it in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add about a half-pound of diced chicken breast (if you’ve got chicken that’s already cooked you can skip this step and stir it in with all the rest of the ingredients) and let that all brown. Add one large or two regular sized garlic cloves that you’ve crushed up real good and ½ teaspoon black pepper; let that cook for a minute or two and remove from the heat.

Then in a large mixing bowl, stir together:

  • 1 8-oz container sour cream (you can use low- or non-fat ingredients throughout, I did and it tastes just fine)
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • About half of an 8-oz bag of shredded colby jack cheese
  • About ½ to ⅔ of a bag of frozen tater tots
  • The chicken mixture

Pour that all into a greased casserole dish, top with remaining cheese (I didn’t end up even using the whole bag) and bake at 350 for 40–45 minutes.

This is one of those recipes I love to make when I go away for what I call Cabin Weekends — you know, those big group trips that involve lots of sitting around without a bra on, drinking wine at 8 a.m.? Serve with a big giant green salad to make you feel better about the fact that you’re eating a dish with the words “tater tot” in the name, a simple steamed vegetable and homemade cookies for dessert and suddenly you’re a hero among your friends.

Previously: Chicken Mushroom Casserole for the Lazy Snob and Breakfast Hotdish, Minnesota Style, Veggie Moussaka With Puy Lentils and Two Easy Cassoulets

Jolie Kerr never met a tater tot she didn’t love