The greatest thing writing affords you is justification.
“Why are you deep-frying an entire Chipotle burrito?” says a reasonably concerned roommate, fearful of dying an otherwise avoidable chimichanga-related death.
“Writing about it,” I reply, with no intention of ever putting pen to paper.
“Why are you frosting and decorating a 12-pack of Dos Equis to look like a birthday cake?” inquires the girlfriend, angry that I once again used her cake-decorating supplies for cheeky shenanigans.
“Writing a 4,000-word feature on sprinkles as the shibboleth for–if not driving force behind–America’s dissolving cupcake-industrial complex,” I say, whisking away my beerthday cake before she has a chance to ask more questions.
“Why are your hands covered in red sauce, why are there tater tots on the floor, and, oh what the hell, did you seriously steal my shrimp?” a roommate asks, mad about something or other.
“Dude, seriously, this time I’m actually writing about it,” and I am.
If you’re not at The Little Jewel of New Orleans right now–and I assume you’re not–you better have a damn good reason. You better have a reason that outweighs suckling-pig po’ boys, crawfish mac and cheese, and a monstrous combination of roast-beef drippings and fried potatoes called “debris fries.” Seriously, your kid can wait in the parking lot an extra hour or two after soccer practice. This place is worth it.
But I can’t sit here and pretend like I’m a completely unbiased source of information. Any restaurant that douses fried potatoes in gravy automatically gets an extra gold star in my book (that includes all poutine-serving McDonald’s locations in the greater Quebec area).
That being said, not all fried potatoes, and certainly not all gravies, were created equal. Tater tots might not be indigenous to the bayous of Louisiana, but I think they deserve a place at the table, and there’s no better way to ingrain a food into the regional pedigree than smothering it in an already iconic dish. My creation is called gumbo tots. They’re awesome.
As with any good gumbo—just because you’re throwing it on top of tater tots doesn’t mean you can get sloppy with technique—start off with a dark roux. That weak-ass mac-and-cheese blonde roux won’t fly here, you’re looking for some big-time depth of flavor. Keep that oil and flour going on medium until you get a deep hazelnut color.
Then you’re going to throw in some of the holy trinity that forms the base of all self-respecting Cajun food—bell pepper, celery, and onion. After the veggies start to sweat down in that close-to-burnt-but-more-awesome-than-ever roux, pour in equal parts shrimp and chicken stock and stir until you get an almost gravy-like consistency. From there, just add some crushed tomatoes, a whole lot of andouille sausage, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and whatever spices you feel like working with—paprika, cayenne, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, go wild on it. When it’s getting all nice and thick and toasty, drop in some raw, peeled, deveined shrimp and simmer for five or six minutes.
Now, when you would normally ladle it on a pile of steamed rice, you’re going to improve the dish by 100 percent and use some freshly deep-fried, store-bought, freezer-aisle, Ore-Ida tater tots. Seriously, don’t be a hero and try to make your own. Ore-Ida actually trademarked the name tater tot, so if you want to go homemade, I think you’re legally obligated to send Heinz a five-dollar bill in a sealed envelope.
Once those tots are completely smothered, garnish with some chopped chives. Just because you’re eating 1,800 calories of oil-drenched potato nuggets and hot-sauce-spiked sausage gravy doesn’t mean you have an excuse not to garnish, you filthy animal.