classic tater tot hotdish

These last couple of post-harvest, post-travel weeks have been but a dream, filled with hockey games and cat belly rubs and house concerts and Sunday meatballs. Eggboy has been power washing all of the tractors and combines so that they can get tucked in for their winter slumber and I’ve been finishing up my yogurt book and studying Hebrew! So far I think I know about half of the alphabet, or at least enough to know that it’s going to be a very long time before I can read the Instagram captions of my Israeli food blog friends. Because the vowels! Where did all of the vowels go??? From my limited understanding, modern written Hebrew doesn’t have vowels, so, like, “pizza” would be “pzz.” I appreciate the minimalist nature of this but I am also anxious to be able to read Al Hashulchan and this one Janna Gur book that I have that’s only in Hebrew, and I see a long road ahead of me. Regardless, I’m having a bunch of fun learning it and the classes are giving me more ways to get rid of the 12,000 scones and things that I’m having to test for yogurt book.

Now that yogurt book deadline is very near, I’ve begun thinking about all of the projects that I’d like to do after it’s turned in. Like make potstickers and kubbeh and maybe start a soup and bread club, and maybe do Facebook lives??? Do we like those? Do you watch those? Oh and (!) did I tell you this, we are in the beginning stages of planning to build a house or remodel our current one. We don’t know what the heck we’re doing so if you have links to posts that are basically like house building for idiots plz send. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve never posted a classic hotdish. I just went straight to Chinese hotdishes and miniature hotdishes, but there’s a reason that the classic is a classic and that’s because it’s delicious and comforting, and for the lucky people who grew up with it here in the upper Midwest, as nostalgic as can be. 

To review, a hotdish is: a meat, a vegetable, creamed soup, and a starch. Hotdishes make up a subset of casseroles that are a very hearty meal in a pan. They're like creamy meat pies that are everything you could ever want when it's cold, and they're also great make-ahead meals. The battle for most classic hotdish usually comes down to wild rice versus tater tot, and because I have a kick butt recipe for wild rice hotdish that I’ll be posting a little bit later, in time for you to make it with all of your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, we’re starting here with tater tot. 

The flavors are not fancy, they are meat, potatoes, and very basic soup seasoning. But they are cozy and lovable, like your oldest fleece pullovers. This is what you need for your winter hibernation. The fanciest we’re getting here is in making our own homemade creamed soup, because mum would text me some very sassy bitmojis if ever she caught wind of me buying canned creamed soup. But it’s easy, just make a roux! The hardest part is arranging the tater tots in perfect rows and columns that would have made egggrandma proud. Wait no the hardest part is waiting for it to cool so you don’t burn your mouth (but we have ketchup to help with that)!

It’s supposed to snow on Thursday, so I suggest you pickup some tots. 

classic tater tot hotdish

serves 8


1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter, divided

2 carrots, finely chopped 

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 large onion, divided and finely chopped

Kosher salt

3/4 cup (95g) all-purpose flour

3 c (715g) whole milk 

2 tb chicken, vegetable, or beef soup mix (i prefer the orrington farms brand, but something similar, like a bouillon cube or better than bouillon or a homemade bouillon will work)

Black pepper

2 1/4 pounds ground beef (I typically go for around 85% lean)

9 oz frozen peas or corn

1 1/2 pound tater tots


If you’re feeling wild: a few handfuls of shredded cheese, for topping

If you’re feeling fancy: fresh chopped parsley, for topping

If you’re feeling like you and I should be bffs: ketchup, for serving


Preheat the oven to 400ºf. First, make the creamed soup: in a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, half of the onion, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Stir in half of the milk and cook, stirring, until thickened. Stir in the remaining milk and cook, stirring, until very thick. Add the soup mix, a bunch of turns of black pepper, and a teaspoon of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Pour into a heat safe bowl and set aside. Wipe out your pot and set it back over medium high heat. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and add the remaining half of the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the peas or corn. Using a slotted spoon to drain the juices, transfer half of the beef mixture to a 4-quart casserole dish and spread it out evenly. Layer on half of the soup mixture, and then the other half of the beef, and the other half of the soup. Cover with perfect rows and columns of tater tots. Sprinkle with another pinch of salt and pepper, top with cheese, if desired, and bake until the tots are golden brown and crispy on top, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, top with parsley if desired, and serve with ketchup.

To make ahead: complete the steps up through topping with tater tots (and cheese, if using). Let cool, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook. It'll last 2 days in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer. If reheating from the fridge, proceed as directed but add on a few more minutes in the oven to ensure that it’s heated through. To reheat from frozen, cover with foil and bake at 350º for an hour, and then uncover and then increase the heat to 400º and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until tots are golden brown and the innards are heated through. 


p.s. vegetarian friends!! i have the tastiest hotdish cooking up for you (it is also vegan). it's quite different from this one but if you're looking for a straight up vegetarian version of this classic tater tot hotdish, jenny has cooked up one idea and it's north dakotan husband approved!

pictured: casserole dish, ketchup dish