Monday, March 26, 2012

Hashed Brown Potatoes Demystified

You are in the grocery store, craving the almighty crispy breakfast food, pausing thoughtfully over the frozen foods. Package after package of hashed brown potatoes in every permutation. You reach longingly for a package--you might even buy one. But if you do, when you make it, you think, geez--I spent all that money on this little bit of potatoes. Surely I could do better. Bags of whole potatoes don't cost much. Then, if you try for better--you peel and grate and fry up your own, you get the dreaded Homemade Hash GRAY Mush (HHGM). What went wrong?

Sometimes the simplest things separate the delicious from the lumpen. And hashed brown potatoes are certainly not for the cavalier. But with a few simply--yes, really simple--tricks, your hash brown potatoes will be not just every bit as good but BETTER than the store-bought prepacked processed overpriced frozen ones. And the whole thing is less trouble than it looks.

Crispy Homemade Hash Brown Potatoes
  1. Rinse and peel potatoes--Yukon Gold or other golden variety potatoes are yummier, but any sturdy largish potato variety will do (small potatoes will drive you crazy when you try to peel them--that's the only reason to opt for larger potatoes)
  2. Grate potatoes until completely shredded. This sounds like a lot of work but it's not--potatoes grate beautifully, and you don't need a fancy mandoline or crank grater either--a standard box grater works fine.
  3. Put grated potatoes in a salad spinner or large colander (with holes that are not too big to allow potato shreds to escape) or strainer. Rinse and drain, and then repeat until the water draining from the potatoes is CLEAR. You are effectively washing away the outer layer of starch--the exact starch that will turn your potatoes into HHGM--you have been forewarned!
  4. If you used a salad spinner, spin and drain and repeat until no more liquid escapes the potatoes. This dries them enough to give you a crisping advantage when frying. Otherwise, simply allow to drain and shake to drain excess water. No need to fuss, but dryer is good.
  5. Sufficiently lubricate your sturdy frying pan with oil, pork butter, real butter--your choice--around 3 tablespoons. As to the frying pan, you can use iron, Le Creuset (that's what I like, but anything sturdy will do), or even nonstick--but you probably want to stay away from stainless steel as it's hard to keep potatoes from sticking. Heat the frying pan until water sizzles on it--at slightly hotter than medium heat.
  6. Put the hashed, rinsed, and drained potatoes in the pan and spread them out to maximize surface area. If your layer of potatoes is too thick, it will be harder to get the middle potatoes cooked through without messing with it. A half-inch thickness is a good rule of thumb.
  7. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes WITHOUT MESSING WITH IT. That is, do not disturb the potatoes. Resist the tempation--this is hard, at least for me--to stir them up, toss them around, and otherwise mess with them. Let them be so they can develop a lovely golden crust.
  8. Use a spatula to flip the potato mass over, adding more pan lubricant, as needed (be generous here--hash browns are better with enough fat to make them spectacular).
  9. Repeat step # 7--cook without messing with the potatoes.
  10. Transfer to a plate and enjoy.
Notes: You can always embellish--what we like to do is provide embellishments at the table--little bowls of grated cheese, bacon or ham bits, diced tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, scrambled eggs--as toppings to add on. Also serve with hot sauce for us pepper-heads.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Mysterious Salad Dressings: Everybody Loves Them But How Do You Make Them?

You're in a Japanese restaurant. You are served a nice cucumber salad with wakame seaweed and some delightful gingery brownish salad dressing. What is that and how do you make it?

You're in a natural food (Vegan or vegetarian) restaurant or maybe a Middle Eastern restaurant. You are served a salad dressing that is creamy and delectable and goes perfectly with crudités as well as falafel. What is that and how do you make it?

The answers are here, my friend. And the process is so simply, really, that all you'll need to do is make sure you have the ingredients on hand.
Both of these salad dressings I love so much, I could just drink them. Don't tell, I'm sure this isn't civilized. ("Look—there's that woman who drinks salad dressing.")

Japanese Restaurant Ginger-Soy Salad Dressing
Easy to make, this Japanese salad dressing will surely become a favorite in your family. Even young kids can enjoy it--the same ones who would find raw ginger root too spicy. The rule of thumb for remembering how much to use of each ingredient is 1-2-3 and 1/3.
  • 1 tablespoon ginger juice (grated ginger root that you squeeze the juice out of)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar (Nope, other vinegars will not do--rice vinegar rocks this recipe. And it's great to have on hand for everything from sushi to potsticker (gyoza) and shabu-shabu dipping sauce. If you get the seasoned rice vinegar (that has sugar and salt in it), just a splash is good enough for a low-fat salad dressing in a hurry.
  • 1/3 cup of salad oil (Canola, corn oil, whichever you prefer)

Pour the ingredients into a glass jar, cover, and shake. Shake before serving and do not dress the salad until the last second. Store in a glass jar, refrigerate, and enjoy within a week.
  • For a different flava, add in a tablespoon of sesame oil--you'll get a rich, nutty taste
  • Especially great on cucumber, raw sprouts, and fresh mixed lettuces

Middle Eastern Lemon Tahini Salad Dressing
  • 1/3 cup tahini (ground sesame paste, available at Middle Eastern delis and grocery stores as well as health food stores and some supermarkets)
  • 1/4 cup water to thin the tahini
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon (strain off the seeds and pulp)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    Stir the tahini in its original container to mix the heavy sediment at the bottom with the lighter liquid at the top. Once the tahini is well-mixed, pour it into another container. Stir in the water with the tahini. As you stir, the mixture will at first look thin, and then it will get thicker. Strange to watch, but true. Add in the lemon juice and the cumin, garlic, and olive oil. Mix thoroughly and add salt to taste. Your salad dressing should be creamy but not too thick (like blue cheese salad dressing), and not too thin (like Italian salad dressing). If the consistency is not to your liking, add small amounts of water to adjust. Taste again before serving. You might need more salt or more garlic. No need to shake—tahini salad dressing stays mixed for a good long time. Store in a glass jar, refrigerate, and enjoy within a week.
  • If you make the lemon tahini dressing thick, it can serve as a wonderful dip
  • Simply add this dressing to a blender with garbanzo beans (chick peas), blend, and voila! You have hummus. Now, aren't you smart?