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.