The art of making hash browns for breakfast has long been lost in America. McDonald's serves up a deep fried instant potato mush prepared from nuked Pringles. The chains offer breakfast potatoes, made with the dregs of last weekend's uneaten baked potatoes. If one can even find hash browns on the menu at all, they are invariably grilled in restaurant oil, which, aside from leaving a ghastly aftertaste, can easily be used to fuel motor vehicles. Are America's taste buds dulled to the point where we're willing to eat stuff that's cooked in bio diesel? I guess so because even places that claim a breakfast specialty, like the Waffle House and International House of Pancakes, are hard-pressed to slap down a plate of edible hash browns.
One bright spot if you're traveling: Cracker Barrel reliably prepares well crafted hash browns (except the one in Colorado Springs). And there is still the occasional independent who can do the job. But pretty much, if you want hash browns done right, you're hired. This is how it's done.
Cooking hash browns isn't difficult but there are a couple of things that make it work right.
SHREDDING THE POTATOES
- Use a large, well made, stainless steel cheese grater not a food processor.
- Don't shred the potatoes until you are ready to cook them or they will turn an unappetizing funky pinkish brown.
- Most people prefer peeled potatoes for hash browns but you can make them with unpeeled potatoes as well.
- Use good quality, fresh potatoes. Traditional Russets (white baking potatoes) work best.
- Shred the potatoes onto a pile of paper towels laid on top of a paper plate or two.
- IMPORTANT: Blot the starchy liquid from the shredded potatoes with paper towels. Don't be shy about it, use a lot of pressure, the potatoes need to be as dry as possible.
COOKING THE POTATOES
- Bring a cast iron frying pan up to cooking temperature. We talked about this the other day, don't even try cooking hash browns in anything else (you may use a cast iron griddle if you like).
- Test the temperature by dropping a pat of butter into the pan. If the butter burns, the pan is too hot. This is a hard and fast rule. Many people try to cook hash browns in a scalding hot pan. Don't do it, they will not cook right and you'll be disappointed.
- Once you've achieved optimum pan temp add two tablespoons of olive or peanut oil and a half stick of butter. The oil helps prevent the butter from burning.
- IMPORTANT: It is pointless to use margarine, Crisco, or any other fake substitute. Butter is what gives the hash browns their unique flavor. If you're worried about cooking with butter, you probably shouldn't be eating hash browns anyway.
- Immediately put the potatoes into the pan. You'll need to fluff them as you go because they'll be pressed flat from drying them with paper towels. Layer the potatoes loosely until they are about a half inch thick and fill the skillet.
- While cooking, add more butter to the edges of the pan or griddle as needed.
- Test for crispiness by lifting the edge of the hash browns with a spatula and looking. When the bottom is crispy, flip the hash browns and cook the other side until done.
- If the potatoes are properly crunchy on the bottom they generally will hang together when you flip them. If cooking in a large skillet you may need two spatulas. Wide spatulas designed for cooking fish work well as do large BBQ spatulas.
Enjoy with fried eggs and spicy sausage.