On a grand unified theory of tater tots and latkes

If history has taught us anything, the latke and tater tot share a great deal: ingredients, process and cooking.  Cooking the potato before mixing, processing and frying is too much, like nuggets of mashed potato.  When shredded raw potato is used in my latke with sparing amounts of flour and egg, a nice - almost rösti is obtained.  In both cases texture is off.  In the tater tot, too smooth, in the latke, a little lacking, closer to a hash brown, still missing the soft potato-ey inside.

What seems logical for the potato pancake/nugget/courgette/fritter is something between cooked and raw.  Partially cooking a potato is tricky, most methods are trade secrets of Ore Ida.  That almighty potato god has specialized equipment and may even possess genetically modified animals who poop partially cooked, skinless potatoes.  We cannot compete with such a force, we can only try to find a tasty facsimile.

Last night, another step closer, this application directed to tater tots.  I shredded Yukon Gold potatoes (w skin) to a coarse shred, put the shreds in a potato ricer to squeeze out the moisture; observed is a starchy liquid pouring from the shreds, it's cool to watch.  I let the suspension down the drain, but it's common to let it settle, decant the water and use the sedimentary starch (for gluten free). The shreds were then chopped a bit so the long shreds wouldn't ruin the appearance of my tots.

 The chopped and squished shreds, very dry.  These were weighed (300 g) and placed in a bowl and mixed with raw scrambled egg (30 g) and flour (15 g, can use potato starch or matzoh, ...), salt and pepper and 1/2 t of baking powder.

When I tried to scoop some of it into a #60 scoop, it didn't hold together well.  I would've added more egg and flour but instead took out my immersion blender, resisted placing my fingers near the spinning blade (that hurts let me tell you) and blended it in several spots to get it more mushy.

 It seemed to hold together better.  Out to the deep fryer, at 350-375°F I placed little balls of the mix in the oil:

Removed and blotted, very low oil retention, clean blot on paper towel.

Were they perfect?  No.  But much better.  Lots of conclusions and directions to go.
1. The only real difference between the tater tot and latke is method of frying; tots are small and need deep frying whereas the latke looks just fine in a layer of oil, frying one side at a time, but the inside texture isn't so different (imo).
2. I might try to try to use more immersion blending to get a little mushier before frying, they were still on the verge of a hash brown.
3. Good friend Becky is a great latke maker and I feel I may have simply discovered what she's done every year at her latke party, so I feel a little stupid now, but the experiments were fun and tasty.  I still can't wait for her party - hint, hint Becky if you're reading!
4. I need to look up some "How It's Made" episodes on potato processing for clues.
5. This is pretty easy, I like the method.
6. Even though it's not perfect, and may never be, I'm ready for other roots, flavors, additions (bacon!), etc.
7. I really need to figure out how to use semicolons.


Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) said...

We add onions to our latkes and this has an effect of providing a pleasant textural difference. The onions release moisture as they cook, softening the inside.

Rather than your disgusting guess about fecal processing, I would bet that the shreds are steamed or blanched, flash cooled, and then mixed and fried.

There are a few more weeks before Hannukah - I guess I should put latkes and/or tater tots on the menu for a few trials before the holiday.

Dave said...

Shoot, of course, I forgot. In my first run through looking for latke recipes, yes, onion, that's what differentiates latkes from tots.

I think you're spot on about the steamed/blanched and cooling. I'd love to visit a facility sometime to watch that. Big industrial applications are pretty awesome to watch and make one think about adapting it to home use. I still think Ore Ida may have yet unidentified beings created (trade secrets and all).