Molly Yeh’s Chicken Hotdish Is My Definition of Comfort Food

updated Jan 13, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Chicken Pot Tot Hotdish

The combination of crispy tater tots, chicken, and veggies featured in this Midwestern casserole is the utter definition of comfort food.

Serves6 to 8

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a metal spoon sits in a tater tot hot dish in an oval black pot
Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

During the past 12 months, I turned to food for comfort more than any other time in my life. As I watched the constant cycle of news flood in, I cooked in a desperate attempt to calm my nerves. I made braises, soups, casseroles — anything that would make me feel soothed, even if just for a moment.

One of the recipes I made the most during 2020 was hotdish, a stick-to-your-ribs casserole I ate growing up. It was something I had almost completely forgotten about, but those comfort food memories came rushing back when I came across Molly Yeh’s Chicken Pot Tot Hotdish in her Molly on the Range cookbook. It was as if my body knew I needed it, and my first taste of the nostalgic casserole was like a warm hug. The combination of crispy tater tots paired with a creamy chicken pot pie-inspired filling is the ultimate comfort food.

Get the book: Molly on the Range, $22.99

Hotdish Is The Midwest’s Version of Ugly Delicious

The concept of hotdish might be foreign to anyone who grew up outside of the Upper Midwest. And depending on which region of the Midwest you grew up in and who you talk to, the definition can vary. The thing almost everyone can agree on is that hotdish is a casserole, but not all casseroles are hotdish. For me, hotdish is any casserole that contains a creamy sauce (usually canned cream-of-something soup), a starch, vegetables, and meat. Tater tots are the quintessential hotdish topping, although other crunchy toppings (such as crushed potato chips) are also common.

The comfort food staple is especially popular in North Dakota and Minnesota, but growing up in Illinois I enjoyed many a hotdish. Yeh, a fellow Illinois native, describes them best, placing hotdish on a “x/y chart where x = how much it looks like barf, and y = how delicious it is, they would be maxed out on both accounts. That’s the charm of a hotdish.” And in a year when all I cared about was comfort, the ugly delicious casserole made an appearance on my dinner table (aka couch) several times.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

When In Doubt, Cover It In Tater Tots

For me, hotdish isn’t hotdish without tater tots, but Yeh’s recipe takes it a step further. To ensure a perfect filling-to-tot ratio (and make the dish look more fun), she has you arrange the potato puffs in concentric circles on top of the casserole. Snuggling the tots together in orderly rows was a moment of zen. Once the tots are placed, the casserole goes into the oven, where the tots get crispy on top and perfectly creamy on the underside. It’s like a hash brown topping, only better.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

If You Make This Hotdish, a Few Tips

Before you head into the kitchen, keep these tips in mind.

1. Make sure to use chicken thighs, not breasts. Yeh’s recipe calls for using boneless, skinless chicken thighs, not breasts. This ensures that the chicken stays moist and tender even after baking, so definitely don’t overlook this detail.

2. Feel free to use different varieties of tater tots. I’ve made this recipe with sweet potato tots and roasted garlic flavored tots and both were delicious. If there’s a tater tot variety you love, go for it!

3. Watch the salt. This recipe calls for seasoning the filling with “enough chicken broth base to make 3 cups broth.” Depending on what brand of broth base you use, you might need to adjust your seasoning. Some broth bases are very salty, while others are salt-free, so just make sure to taste the filling for seasoning before topping with the tater tots.

Chicken Pot Tot Hotdish

The combination of crispy tater tots, chicken, and veggies featured in this Midwestern casserole is the utter definition of comfort food.

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1

    large onion, finely chopped

  • 3

    carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • Kosher salt

  • 6 tablespoons

    flour

  • 3 cups

    whole milk

  • Enough chicken broth base to make 3 cups broth

  • 3/4 cup

    peas, fresh or frozen

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried thyme

  • Black pepper

  • 18 ounces

    frozen Tater Tots

  • Ketchup, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour so that it gets evenly distributed. Add 1 1/2 cups of the milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Repeat with the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk. Stir in the chicken broth, peas, chicken, thyme, and a few turns of pepper and simmer, stirring often, until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if desired.

  3. Transfer the mixture to an 11x8-inch baking dish (or other 3-quart ovenproof dish) and cover with Tater Tots. Arrange them snugly and neatly. Bake until the tots are golden brown. Begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve with ketchup, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Recipe courtesy of MOLLY ON THE RANGE. Copyright © 2016 by Molly Yeh. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.