Venison Tater Tot Casserole Recipe

The one-pan meal rules over all others when it comes to quick and easy chow. One version stands out and reigns supreme here in Minnesota, and that’s the good ‘ol hotdish. Is this tater-tot-topped wonder as Midwestern as bumping into someone and them apologizing? You betcha.

Tater tot hotdish is one of those concoctions that lends itself to whatever flavors you desire. I’ve seen taco tater tot, cheeseburger tater tot, sloppy Joe tater tot, breakfast tater tot, and countless others. For this rendition, we’re sticking close to the canned-good classic. The creamy, cheesy taste is kicked up a notch with the addition of venison, jalapeño, bacon, and a creamy homemade wild mushroom gravy in lieu of the traditional cream-of-something soup.

Time to make

1.5 hours

Ingredients

24 oz. bag tater tots
1 lb. ground venison
1/2 lb. bacon, crumbled
8 oz. bag shredded cheese of choice
24 oz. homemade mushroom gravy (Campbell’s “cream of” soups can be substituted)
1/2 cup Top the Tater Dip or sour cream
1 can sweet corn
1 can French style green beans
1/4 cup diced jalapeño
2 tbsp. oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. paprika

Mushroom Gravy
2 cups packed mushrooms, chopped (I used chanterelles)
1 cup yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup venison stock
1 pint heavy cream
1 stick butter (8 tbsp.)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dry thyme (optional)

Also works with

Any ground wild game

Method

1
  1. Cook the bacon in a skillet or in the oven on a sheet pan until it’s very crispy. Reserve the grease for later uses, like frying fish. Set aside the bacon for finishing the hotdish.
  2. In a cast iron skillet or saucepot over medium-high heat, add the oil or butter and coat the pan. Add the venison and cook until thoroughly browned; season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Remove the meat and set aside. If using meat with high fat content, make sure to drain the fat before adding the spices.
  3. In the same skillet or pot that you browned the meat, add the stick of butter with the garlic, onion, and cook until the onions begin to caramelize on the edges. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, thyme, and sauté the ‘shrooms until they’re thoroughly cooked. Stir in the flour evenly and cook until the mixture begins to bubble and turn a golden brown (this is the roux or thickening agent that will help make the gravy thick and rich). When the butter/flour mixture turns golden brown, stir in the stock and bring it to a boil. Lastly, stir in the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the gravy to a simmer, occasionally stirring, allowing it to get very thick (you’re looking for condensed soup-thick). Check for taste and remove from the heat to cool. Alternately, you can skip this step and use the canned cream of mushroom or celery soup.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground venison, gravy, 6 ounces of cheese, Top the Tater Dip, sweet corn, green beans, and jalapeño. Dump the hotdish filling into a greased casserole dish and spread evenly. Add a single layer of the tater tots on top of the filling.
  5. Bake the hotdish for one hour or until the tater tots are crispy and the filling is  bubbly. Spread the remaining cheese evenly on top and place back in the oven. Cook for 10 minutes more or until the cheese melts and gets golden brown on the edges. Remove and let the dish stand for 15-20 minutes. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top. Scoop out a nice chunk and dig in.