Cooking School – Hash Browns
Perhaps you’re wondering why such a simple and common dish like hash browns merits a Cooking School article. I admit I wondered the same thing. Why spend time talking about something that everybody already knows about? So, to prove my point, if to no one but myself, I decided to fry some up to accompany dinner one night. The concoction that spilled out of the pan was completely unlike any hash I’d ever seen. Clearly, these things aren’t as much of a given as I had thought them to be.
Truth is, my experience with hash browns is sorely lacking.
I was in my 30s when I tried, for the first time, rösti at Marché — the Swiss interpretation of hash browns (or potato pancakes. I’ll explain that one below) — and the McDonald’s version. I don’t need to tell you that one will never be mistaken for the other. While I found the rösti to be heavy (but yummy), the fast-food version was light, crispy, dripping with grease and tasting of nothing in particular. Was this what all the fuss was about? I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would be excited about these things. But, just to show that I’m a good sport, I decided that I didn’t want to give up on them.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. Hash browns are made ONLY with potatoes, salt and pepper. The potatoes have to be shredded, diced or riced. Apparently, the starch from the potatoes is enough to hold these delicacies together while frying.
2. Any hash brown made with eggs is not, technically, a hash brown. It’s a potato pancake. What a difference an egg can make! Although truthfully, I don’t think the end result looks a whole lot different than the other made without the egg. Far be it from me to argue with established traditions.
3. Absolutely squeeze any and all water out of the potatoes before trying (desperately and unsuccessfully as I did) to form them into patties. The water will leach from the shreds or cubes of potato until their swimming in it. Browning wet potatoes is just not possible. Don’t even try. You’re more likely to get zapped by oil popping out of the pan.
4. Some people claim that the potatoes should be at least partially cooked before they’re shredded, chopped, etc. The argument being that cooking forces the potato to release more starch. It’s the starch that helps hold the whole thing together. I, personally, didn’t find that step necessary. If you do give it a try, please don’t boil the potatoes. That will just give you more water to worry about. Instead, cut them into quarters and bake them until they’re about halfway cooked. They should be starting to dry out without any of the crumbling that can occur when they’re completely cooked.
With these tips in mind, give this yummy recipe a try. Form the potato mixture into large patties or small ones. Or, if they fall apart, like mine sometimes do, brown them anyway and serve as is.
Eat these anytime — breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, snacks.
1 large baking potato, diced, patted dry
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup corn kernels
Oil or butter, to coat the bottom of a large frying pan
1. Stir all ingredients, except oil and butter, together. Spoon the mixture into a hot pan coated with oil or butter. Flatten into a patty.
2. Brown the potato mixture, approximately 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Flip over onto the other side and let it brown.
– use a pan that’s significantly larger than the patty
– don’t poke at it; let it brown undisturbed
– don’t smack the patty; it’ll behave, I promos
Serve with a side of bacon and a soft-boiled egg!