Food & Drink

Tater Tot Casserole with a Kick

Houston chef Chris Shepherd cooks up a guaranteed crowd-pleaser

Photo: Julie Soefer

Truth be told, I’m not much of a potato guy; I’ll take rice as my starch any day of the week. But I can’t resist a tater tot (who can?), and that’s especially the case when they’re in the form of tater tot casserole from Opie’s, a barbecue joint outside of Austin. This recipe is my version of Opie’s masterpiece, with the important addition of chiles in roasted and pickled form. I’m a believer that chiles can go anywhere that melty rich cheese goes—not so much for their heat, but for their fruity flavor, which complements the creamy tang of dairy. This combo is put to practice over and over again—hello, chile flakes on your slice of pizza; hello, chiles rellenos—so keep it in mind the next time you have a fridge full of cheese and chiles. —Chris Shepherd

Reprinted with permission from Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd & Kaitlyn Goalen, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Julie Soefer. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.


  • (Serves 8)


    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)

    • ¼ cup small-diced white onion

    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

    • 2 cups heavy cream

    • 3 tablespoons sambal oelek

    • 1 tablespoon Louisiana brand hot sauce

    • 2½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


    • 2 poblano chiles

    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan

    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 (32-ounce) bag frozen tater tots

    • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    • ¼ cup pickled sliced jalapeños, roughly chopped


  1. For the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and sprinkle the flour over. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, until the onion and garlic smell fragrant and the flour evenly coats the vegetables. Slowly whisk in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Add the sambal and hot sauce, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in the cheese, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

  2. For the casserole: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the poblanos on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle the oil over them. Use your hands to coat the chiles well. Season the chiles with salt and pepper and roast, turning them once, until the skins are blistered, about 15 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 10 minutes to steam; reduce the oven to 350°F. Using a paper towel, gently rub the skins off the chiles. Remove the stems and seeds, then roughly chop the peppers.

  3. In a large bowl, combine the frozen tater tots, cheese sauce, half of the cheddar cheese, the poblanos, and half of the pickled jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish and pour the tater tot mixture in. Top with the remaining cheese and jalapeños. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.