Tater Tot Casserole. Photo: Su-Lin Lee, Getty Images.
Hot dish is the pride and joy of Midwesterners. Its origins date back to a 1930s cookbook from a Lutheran church in Minnesota. All these years later, hot dish remains on its culinary pedestal, honored by offices as high as the Minnesota Congressional Delegation during its annual Hotdish Off. That history may not sound too sexy, but hot dish — modern day or old-school style — is still the kind of casserole you want to bury your face in (and we mean that in a very sexy way).
The definition of what constitutes hot dish is broad, and based primarily on layers. While stacking order varies, hot dishes generally contain: canned or frozen vegetables, a cream-of-something soup, a source of protein (like canned tuna, shredded chicken, or ground beef), a starch (such as mashed potatoes, noodles, or rice), and a crispy topping (think potato chips or chow mein noodles). Sometimes cheese sneaks its way in there, too. But just because the potential combinations are numerous doesn’t mean there isn’t a hierarchy of deliciousness when it comes to these creamy (and often indistinguishable) entrées. Here are a few of the tastiest hot dish combinations.
Tater Tot Hot Dish
Tater Tot Hot Dish seems to be the most common of this almighty casserole genre. This dish begins with a ground beef base, followed by a layer of veggies (corn, peas, and green beans being among the more popular options). Then a can’s worth of condensed cream of mushroom soup is spread across the veg layer. Tater tots top it off. If you’re really going wild, you can incorporate cheese, ketchup, or Worcestershire sauce into the recipe.
Want to spice things up? Food blog A Pinch of Yum recently featured a recipe for Southwest Sweet Potato Tater Tot Hot Dish. This modernized version substitutes portobello mushrooms for the meat, keeps the corn in the veg layer but adds poblano and bell peppers to the mix, uses a pepper jack cheese sauce in lieu of soup, and swaps plain tots for the sweet potato kind. While this sounds mouthwatering, we must note that such spicy food would be blasphemy to the church basement ladies of yore.
Chicken Hot Dish
If you thought hash browns would qualify as a crispy topping for a hot dish, you’re wrong. In certain chicken hot dish recipe circles, they’re the base, on top of which California blend vegetables and shredded chicken are placed. This unusual entrée is then doused in chicken broth and cream of chicken soup. French fried onions are added at the end of bake time for a hearty meal that isn’t for chickens!
Taco Hot Dish
Imitating Mexican food is as exotic as church basement ladies get. A proper taco hot dish begins with a layer of tortillas. Next comes ground beef browned in taco seasoning. (If you’re getting tired of all the beef in hot dish, swap in ground turkey instead.) To meet the vegetable requirement, follow the ground beef with a swath of canned tomatoes and green chilies or Southwest style corn. These three layers are soon smothered by hot cheddar cheese soup followed by a heavy-handed sprinkling of the shredded cheese of your choice (though pepper jack seems apropos). And then, of course, as many Fritos corn chips as you can fit on the surface. (Fun fact: Fritos have been around since 1932!)
Hot Dog Hot Dish
If your mom never made you macaroni and cheese studded with chopped hot dogs, your childhood sucked. Reclaim your youth with a hot dish that combines multiple bad-for-you-but-kid-favorite foods. A dish of cooked macaroni noodles is covered with a white cheddar cheese soup, then layered with chopped cooked hot dogs and canned peas. (The veg had to get in there somehow.) Shredded cheese blankets the casserole and Panko bread crumbs finish the job. Even your mom couldn’t top that.
Pizza Hot Dish
If you love the taste of pizza but aren’t so keen on crust, pizza hot dish was invented just for you. While it doesn’t quite meet all the criterion for a hot dish, your mouth will be too full of salty, greasy ecstasy for you to argue. A mixture of pizza sauce and canned diced tomatoes is combined with cooked rotini pasta and Italian sausage. Toss in some sliced peppers, mushrooms, and olives, then add as much mozzarella as you can stomach. As for the “crusty topping”? A generous layer of pepperoni qualifies.
Tuna Noodle Hot Dish
This fishy hot dish is less layered and more incorporated. It involves mixing cooked egg noodles, canned tuna, milk, cream of mushroom soup, and peas in a casserole dish, then topping with your choice of potato chips, French’s french fried onions, or bread crumbs with butter. Like a lover you’re not attracted to but can’t stop sleeping with, tuna noodle hot dish sounds disgusting but will have you coming back for more.