Tater Tot Hotdish

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You know you’re in Minnesota, or the Dakotas, when you make a tater tot hotdish. This is a classic potluck casserole with endless variations. My version is a venison hotdish with wild mushrooms, but I’ll give you options for an easier, store-bought hotdish, too.

A casserole dish of tater tot hotdish with a plate of the meal alongside.

I lived in Minnesota years ago, and have recently moved back, so I am immersing myself in All Things Hotdish. I can tell you, there are as many variations as there are cooks named Ole or Lena. But the general consensus is that tater tot hotdish is a universal favorite.

It touches all the bases: Meaty, fatty, creamy, cheesy, crunchy, starchy… and if you add vegetables, well there you go. The only thing a tater tot hotdish lacks is acidity, and for that you can add a splash of vinegar, hot sauce, or, as one of my North Dakota friends prefers, ketchup.

OK, I can hear you: Hank, how on God’s Green Earth can you stoop to making a tater tot hotdish? It’s true I am better known for more gourmet dishes like duck a’lorange or something off the wall, like Sierra Spring. But I have a comfort food side to me, too.

Still, I gotta be me. So this is a venison hotdish. Yes, you can use any ground meat: beef, pork, a mixture, ground goose, you name it.

Also, I loathe canned cream of mushroom soup. Sure, you can substitute my homemade cream of mushroom soup with one or even two cans of the gloppy stuff, but I make it from scratch with wild mushrooms and cream. I prefer using birch boletes and morels, but most mushrooms will work.

The presence of vegetables in a tater tot hotdish is, well, hotly debated. I like frozen peas, but frozen green beans are also very common, as is the “medley” of peas, carrots and corn you see in freezer sections everywhere. You do you.

A serving of venison hotdish on a plate with a beer.

Making Tater Tot Hotdish

Making a venison tater tot hotdish is super simple:

  • Cook the meat with onions, garlic and some herbs, maybe celery and a few mushrooms if you want to go crazy.
  • Simmer dried mushrooms a minute or two to rehydrate them. Save the water and roughly chop the shrooms. Puree them with a little soaking water with cream and salt and you’re good. Stir into the meat mixture.
  • Top with as much or as little shredded cheese — I used colby jack — as you want, then dot with the tots. Bake. Eat.

As for placement, I prefer my tots in a tater tot hotdish to be on top, so they get crispy. I have seen some versions placing the tots at the bottom, or even the middle. But I don’t like soggy tots, do you?

You’ll notice fresh parsley on top. Again, I gotta be me. I like fresh herbs, but if they scare you, skip them.

A serving of tater tot hotdish, ready to eat.

Storing and Serving

Generally speaking, you serve a venison hotdish as part of a potluck, so there will be lots of other dishes around. But if you are serving it as a solo main course, a simple salad would be enough. After all, there’s meat, vegetables and starch in the one casserole dish.

Once made, a hotdish will keep a week in the fridge.

You also can freeze a tater tot hotdish easily, either before or after baking. I prefer after, so you just heat and eat later. Easiest method is to bake the hotdish, then cool, then cover with plastic wrap and freeze. This works for a few days. Add a layer of foil over the plastic wrap for longer freezing.

Or you could dish out servings and freeze in lidded, plastic containers.

If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.

A serving of tater tot hotdish, ready to eat.
4.92 from 23 votes

Tater Tot Hotdish

An Upper Midwest classic, this recipe works with any meat, not just venison, and you can either use canned cream of mushroom soup, or make your own, which is easy.
Course: lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds ground venison (or other meat)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms (about 2 handfuls)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons marjoram or savory or thyme, divided
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces frozen peas, or other frozen vegetables
  • 6 ounces shredded cheese
  • 32 ounces tater tots
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Instructions 

  • Brown the ground venison in a large pan; use a little oil if the grind has no extra fat. After it has mostly browned, add the celery and chopped onions and keep cooking until the meat is nicely browned and the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the dried mushrooms. Turn off the heat and let them soak.
  • Add the chopped garlic and some salt to the pan with the meat and onions. Cook this over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, stirring well.
  • Fish out the mushrooms, squeeze them to remove excess moisture and chop roughly. If the soaking water is full of debris, strain it. If not, pour about 1/3 into the pan with the meat and onions. Bring this to a boil.
  • Add half the marjoram and mustard to the meat mixture and boil this down until it's mostly dry.
  • While this is happening, preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the mushrooms, another 1/3 of the soaking water, the other half of the marjoram, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and the cream into a blender and puree. If it's too thick, add a little more soaking water. Taste it and add more salt if need be. Pour this into the pan with the meat, add the peas and stir well.
  • Pour all this into a casserole dish; a typical 9×13" works well. Spread it evenly. Add a layer of grated cheese over everything, as thick as you want. Then arrange tater tots to cover it all, pressing in a little. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered.
  • Take it out of the oven, let it cool a bit before serving, ans sprinkle with parsley, if using.

Notes

If you don’t want to make your own cream of mushroom soup, simply use 1 or 2 cans of the stuff. I don’t love it, but many do. 

Nutrition

Calories: 595kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 34g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 141mg | Sodium: 741mg | Potassium: 857mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 835IU | Vitamin C: 19mg | Calcium: 170mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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33 Comments

  1. A recipe I will have to try. Sounds tasty. I like that it is served on a classic Stangl dish. You must of brought it from Jersey!
    A fellow Jersey boy who got his Stangl from his grandmother

  2. Doctored it up a bit using a chorizo elk burger mix and ingredients we had around. Turned out very good. To me it’s really a shepherd’s pie with tater tots. I’ll be passing this recipe around if that’s ok.

  3. This recipe is fantastic! The homemade cream of mushroom was amazing and totally worth the effort. I’m in southeast Michigan and never had this dish before but it pleased everyone at our table (even those who despise mushrooms ?).

  4. I made this with ground Elk, 50% herbs de Provance, 50% marjoram and dried Chanterelles. I served io with a bottle of Shiraz. I was delicious. I cooked it for 60 minutes, the last 15 on the air fryer setting on my oven. The tots were nice and crispy. It was a big hit. I loved your comment about Ole and Lena as did my Minnesota and Wisconsin friends.
    Thanks Hank. Your recipes never fail to please my dinner guests,

  5. I made this for a potluck with venison and grass fed beef and dried shitake mushrooms we grew. It was a big hit. We are in New England and only one person at the supper had heard of Hotdish. I will make it with bison next time since I am out of venison now. Thanks Hank!

  6. Thanks! Love your recipes, I will be trying this one today!
    Since you are doing Minnesota now, when can we expect a Lutefisk recipe??

  7. Could this be made with leftover cooked meat? Is that historical? I have a lot of frozen smoked chuck roast to use up. (When the smoker has 4 racks you don’t use just two!) Peas sound good. (Maybe add carrots) Would the mushroom soup be the wrong thing? Is it substituting for mashed potatoes? The Chuck Roast has enough smoke on it to still come through the soup. (7+ Hours Oak the whole time)