Many years ago, I worked at a hospital named (I’m not making this up) Confederate Memorial Hospital. It was a teaching hospital, so there were many young nursing students and resident physicians. Nearly all of the patients were poor and uninsured. With all those mouths to feed, it is not surprising that the food was particularly uninspired. As you might suspect, the menu included a lot of fried okra, corn bread, greens cooked into oblivion, and grits. Even at that, everyone dreaded the weekend beginning on Friday night and extending into Monday morning. The kitchen staff was all off, except for a skeleton crew. Disposable cardboard trays were used, and the plates and utensils all were changed to plastic so that staff on the wards could clean up by dumping everything in huge trash barrels.
The entrée at Friday dinner, even for patients on special diets, was almost always fried baloney cups. Now, fried baloney cups are a common Southern delicacy, but they usually are filled with creamed chicken or vegetables. That was not the case at the hospital. The baloney cup came on the middle of a plastic plate with nothing else. It rolled around on the plate, so that for a sick, bed-ridden patient it was difficult to spear with a flimsy knife and fork that often broke in two.
Bologna lunch meat can be transformed by frying, especially when it is cooked with the cellophane rind still intact. The slice of meat puffs up in the middle on the hot skillet and the rind shrinks a bit so that you wind up with a cup-shaped vessel just begging for filling. Of course, any cook worried about finesse will remove the cellophane rind before serving. The interesting thing is that frying enhances the flavor of the bologna.
Well-made bologna is much maligned because of confusion with the super market version that I will call baloney. Along with its close relative, mortadella, the real thing can be quite delicate and delicious. The stuff called baloney is what you want to use for this dish. These days, you will have to look around a bit to find baloney with the cellophane rind intact, but even without that, a thick slice of the sausage will puff up in the middle so that you can stuff it.
This version incorporates some other standbys of Southern cooking: tater tot potatoes, American cheese, fried eggs, and mustard greens. It is clear that the dish will not help your cholesterol level, but hopefully it will bring back memories for those of us who spent some of our lives in the South.
Tater-Tot-Stuffed Fried Baloney Cups
- vegetable oil for frying
- 2 bunches mustard greens
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce (or to taste)
- 8 thick slices bologna (baloney) with cellophane rind
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 12 tater tots
- 2 teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce (or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup milk
- salt and pepper
- 4 slices American cheese
- 4 eggs
- Wash the mustard greens, remove large ribs, and chop coarsely. Place the chopped greens in a medium non-reactive covered pot over low temperature with a tablespoon or so of cooking oil and the vinegar. Cook until wilted. Adjust the seasoning with Louisiana hot sauce, salt and pepper. Drain, and arrange as “nests” in the middle of 4 serving plates.
- In a medium frying pan over medium high heat, fry 4 of the slices of baloney, rind on, until lightly browned. Transfer from the frying pan, remove the rind, and arrange on top of the mustard greens.
- In the same frying pan, heat another tablespoon of oil. Add the chopped onions and stir until lightly browned.
- Remove the rind from the remaining 4 slices of bologna, chop coarsely, and add to the frying pan. Stir until lightly browned. Then stir in the tater tots, breaking them apart with a fork or wooden spoon. Stir in the hot sauce and flour. Cook for a few minutes until the flour is incorporated to remove any raw taste. Add the milk, bring to the simmer, and stir until the mixture is thickened. It should not be soupy, but just moist enough to hold its shape.
- Fill the baloney cups with the mixture. Top each with a slice of American cheese. Run under a hot broiler until the cheese melts.
- In the meantime, fry the 4 eggs. Top the melted cheese with the fried eggs. Serve.