A History of the Summer Man Meal
By Gabriel Sistare
Chicken. Hot sauce. Beer. Loaded tater tots. I did extensive research and these few words were common among pre-civilized man. The catch is, most historians agree this wasn’t a vocabulary used to describe nouns common to humans at the time, such as rock, tree, deer, etc. In fact, these terms were first said by the equivalent of clergy at the time. The consensus among linguists is that chicken, hot sauce, beer, and especially loaded tater tots were terms that foretold of the achievements of mankind in the future.
Because of an interest in ancient history, I sought to live as these pre-civilized humans did when they were on the cusp of discovering what the clergy foretold. Studying from the traditions of bareknuckled hunter-gatherer to cosmopolitan bartender, I planned and ate a manly, summertime meal of chicken baked with four hot sauces, sampled four beers, and installed my own recipe for loaded tater tots in the archives of human history. There were pickles in my historical recreation, too, but the anthropological literature is unclear on the origin of brined cucumbers.
In the interest of promoting accurate history, let me make it clear that I have no idea if pre-civilization clergy had visions of hot wings and loaded tater tots, but the zealotry I feel at a bar when an order of mouth-watering wings and skillet tater tots comes out is near religious.
For this home-cooked summertime man meal, I used drummettes instead of wings, which I understand to be Rachel Ray’s preference because they are easier to eat quickly so you can turn to the camera and talk—maybe that’s not very manly to write, and no one filmed me.
I used three North Carolina hot sauces, unnamed to avoid free advertising, and a local dry rub. Each had a specific pepper as the base of the sauce: a habanero, ghost, secret recipe, and red chili.
I sampled four North Carolina beers, two IPAs, one Double IPA, and a Cream Ale. These I decided to grade on a scale of “Drink” or “Do Not Drink.” You can contact my publicist to contact CityView if you’d like me to recommend the only one I awarded “Drink.” Otherwise, the beers were pretty mediocre. I opted for a severe grading scale because there is not enough time on the planet to drink bad beer.
Because, with the exception of the cream ale, I only drank IPAs, and thus used a rigorous grading metric of “how much water can I taste.” A good friend describes the flavor profile of IPAs as tasting “like a pine tree.” They’re such naturally intense beers that very little apart from the flavorful sting of the higher hop content is tasted. So, a good IPA shouldn’t be dilute, and if you taste anything that seems like the blandness of good old water, it’s a crap beer. Despite what high-paid food critics may tell you, there’s no real reason to judge a beer other than as good to drink or diluted junk.
To prepare the drumettes, I tossed the wings in a ziplock bag with flour until each piece was coated. Afterwards, I tossed two drumettes each in a ziplock bag with roughly 4-5 tablespoons of a certain hot sauce. The two drumettes that got the dry rub I just tossed once in a bag with flour and the dry rub. Then I cooked the chicken in an oven preheated to 400° for 35-40 minutes occasionally taking it out to brush more hot sauce on.
The assessment: Habanero is king, and I don’t understand dry rub. Beer better not taste like water, and tater tots better be crispy.
Certain hot sauces are too sweet, and then there’re the sadistic varieties that make you so preoccupied with a certain transcendental burning sensation that flavor is irrelevant. Habanero is a good, moderate choice that does not overwhelm other flavors like the pineapple and banana that were in this variety I had.
I’m uncertain of the chemistry behind it, but you know a hot sauce is good when the sugars in it congeal when cooked and get on your hands—let’s call this the “Finger-Licking Quotient.”
I forgot the pickles! The pickles weren’t a focus for flavor, but if we’re thinking summer and burly-man type meals, of the pub eats variety, pickles are fundamental. You always need a vehicle for salt. And so I hear salt is good for rehydration, and when you find that beer that meets the “Good to Drink” criteria, you may need some electrolyte replenishment.
Recipe for Loaded Tater Tots
1 Bag Tater Tots
4-5 Green Onions
1 Package of Bacon
1 Bag Shredded Mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese
On a glass or steel baking sheet, line the strips of bacon without overlapping. Cook in a cold oven set at 400° for 20 minutes. This is known as the Bacon Method. Really. You can look it up online.
While bacon is cooking, spread out the tater tots on another baking sheet and let thaw until bacon is done. Once bacon is done remove it and let cool—preheat the oven to 450°.
Once the oven reaches 450°, put the tater tots in the oven and cook until consistently brown.
(Side note: I had an epic rant after I got loaded tater tots at a local establishment that came out in a skillet with all the tater tots a pale gold. We will only settle for brown, barely golden. Tots are a texture, and they must be crispy.)
While you are waiting for the tater tots to cook, bundle the bacon and cut to your desired size. The goal is to evenly distribute the bacon across the tater tots.
After cutting the stems, roughly chop the green onions and set aside.
After cutting the stems, thinly slice all of the jalapeños, and set aside along with the seeds.
Once the tater tots are finished, take out the tray and dribble the jalapeños, green onions, bacon and cheese evenly on the tater tots in that order. Set the oven to a low broil and continue cooking until the cheese bubbles.
It’s always a stylish option to transfer the loaded mixture to one of the single-serving cast iron skillets before broiling. This will impress people.