For those unfamiliar with this preparation, tater tots were invented by Ore-Ida, a big seller of frozen potatoes (I always thought they were a southern thing, but I just read this). Tater is short for "potato", and "tots" indicates that they're small. They're typically presented in a barrel shape, but I make mine using a small ice cream scoop (technically, it's a cookie dough scoop, equal to a tablespoon).
4 lbs russet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 egg, beaten
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dry basil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese (block form, not shredded or sliced)
4 ounces canola oil
1. Peel the potatoes and place in a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, and cook potatoes for 6 minutes. Immediately drain potatoes and allow to cool.
2. Using a box grater, shred all potatoes into a large bowl. Use a kitchen town or cheese cloth to squeeze any excess moisture out of the potatoes. NOTE: russet potatoes shouldn't need this since they're relatively dry.
3. Beat egg separately and add to the potatoes. Add remaining ingredients (except for the oil and cheese) to the bowl and blend thoroughly.
4. Cut the cheese block into small cubes, about 1/4" per side.
5. Use a small ice cream scoop (tablespoon-sized) to form the mixture into roughly a ball shape. While they're still in the scoop (or tablespoon) press a cube of cheese into the middle. Wrap potato around the cheese so no part of the cheese is showing.
6. Press the stray bits of potato together so it stays in a ball. Prep them on a plate to have them ready to cook. Here's what they look like if you don't do that: some of the frayed ends burn a bit, but they're also crispy and delicious!
6. Carefully place the tots in oil heated to 350-375 degrees, making sure not to crowd the cooking vessel. Shake the fry basket or stir with a metal spoon to keep them from sticking together. Cook for about 4 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Place newly-cooked tots on a paper towel; using a baking sheet with a paper towel is a good way to do this. Try one (carefully!) to see if you like the taste. Sprinkle with salt if desired while still hot.
8. Hide a few for yourself so you will have a chance to have some (they won't last long, regardless of the occasion!)