—a short treatise based on a decade of casual experimentation punctuated by brief, intense frustration. Numerous failures and less than savory products are implied here.
Hashbrowns are made by grating potato and are distinct from “country potatoes” which are cubed and mashed potatoes which are without distinct form. They come frozen or can be made fresh. Frozen hashbrowns have the virtue of being properly prepared and ready to cook (though I more often work with fresh). Hashbrowns are easy to learn to cook well if you’re willing to follow some advice. Here we study a couple of different ways to prepare them.
“Hashbrowns have the ability to make or break a breakfast. Some mornings, no matter how good the eggs might be—the portions seem too small without a solid side dish. Burnt or underdone potatoes can leave a bad impression that lasts the entire day. But on the other hand, the taste of great hashbrowns can travel right from the mouth to the soul. Browns with the edges crisped to perfection are the stuff of legends.”
A cardinal rule in hashbrown preparation is not to play with them once they are on the griddle. If you can’t this temptation, you’ll have to learn to like grilled mashed potatoes devoid of texture. Hashbrowns should be slightly al dente just like pasta, but, of course, they should also be cooked and not raw (just as pasta).
Hashbrowns are not grated from already cooked potato; this practice leads to something more akin to fried mashed potatoes. Hashbrowns can, but should not, be made from waxy (red) or semi-waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold), rather they are best made from starchy (Russet) potatoes. In my opinion, of course.
All recipes start with grated potatoes. How you grate them changes the texture. It’s all about personal taste. You can grate them into long strings or short, almost rice-length. The short ones cook and become mush a lot faster.
Once the potatoes are grated, place them in a colander and rinse the starch from them. While rinsing, move them around with your fingers. Rinsing removes some starch that would otherwise affect the out-come making the hashbrowns more cakey.
One approach to making hashbrowns holds that you must remove as much moisture as possible. If you grate the potatoes, press them between paper towels after rinsing. If making a large batch for guests, consider spinning them in your salad centrifuge. One recipe I saw even suggests that the secret is to rice them without rinsing because ricing removes water. I don’t know, but ricing will not make the kind of result I like to call hashbrowns.
What you are looking for is some distinction between the individual strings, but a cohesive unity in the overall product in terms of construction: a skin of crisy brown top and bottom with luscious, chewy strands of potato in between. More or less. It depends too on which you prefer of restaurant-style (crispier) or cafeteria-style (chewier) hashbrowns.
Well, this is what I’m looking for, anyway.
Butter fats separate and burn quickly on a hot griddle, and even on a medium griddle over a longer period of time. Hashbrowns are cooked hotter than eggs, but as long as you’re patient, the griddle doesn’t have to be the temperature of the surface of the sun. In fact, it shouldn’t be. For hashbrowns, my griddle is around 350°. At that temperature, though, I do have to exercise caution.
If cooking hashbrowns in a thick layer such as for the cafeteria-style below, use part cooking oil and part butter. This will make the hashbrowns a little less crispy; you can compensate by adding more butter halfway through the cooking process. You can also follow some of the suggestions in the sidebar on this page.
To make your hashbrowns like Denny’s, butter the surface of your griddle copiously and lay out the grated potato thinly. Salt and pepper the potato. When brown, turn and finish rather dark. Of course, there’s a lot of inconsistency across restaurants and individual cooks. My current favorite is Cracker Barrel just off I-15 in Springville, Utah who do theirs in a thicker layer giving just the right amount of crispiness to thick, mellow shredded potato.
Cafeteria-style means a lot of hashbrowns cooked at one time, then chaffered. Chaffering ruins the texture of the hashbrowns, so I advise making these as near the time of consumption as possible. This cooking style might please some who don’t like the browner, crispier style of the restaurant over a more chewy style that preserves more potato flavor. Cafeteria-style hashbrowns also mop up egg yolk more handily than the crispy all the way through hashbrowns of breakfast places like Denny’s.
Annoint the griddle with cooking oil, just enough to make it the way it is maintained in a commercial kitchen: sort of “wet.” Drop enough butter to flavor it (not enough to “float” the hashbrowns).
Lay down the grated potato on the griddle. One thing hashbrowns must not lack is contact with the griddle assured by some kind of fat or there will be no browning. Layer thickly, 1" to 1½". Add salt and pepper.
Note, however, that cooking on a non-stick surface will allow you to use considerably less grease than on a pan to which everything sticks (stainless steel, unseasoned cast iron, etc.). My own griddle is somewhat non-stick, though it is not like Teflon® or Silverstone®.
After a couple of minutes, place a few pats of butter here and there on the uncooked side. These will melt, but ensure contact with the griddle when you turn them. Peek under the potatoes to see when to turn them: turn when nicely golden. Finish the other side resisting the temptation to toss the potatoes or continue to mess much with them.
Potato Cake or Fast-food Style
This style doesn’t interest me in particular, but I know about it for having failed to make good hashbrowns so many times and learning what makes bad-tasting hashbrowns.
Don’t rinse out the starch. Cook in thin, little patties as for restaurant-style hashbrowns. Experimenting will give you an idea of just how dark you must get them so they’re cooked through and no longer starchy, but also not inedibly burned. To perfect this to what you see in fast-food restaurants, you can parboil the potatoes just enough to allow them through a ricer and then cook in patties. (At least, that’s how I would do it if I were trying.)
My own top recommendations
Ma and Pa’s Restaurant: a case study...
In Lindon, Utah on State Street used to be a restaurant called Ma and Pa’s, an old, traditional diner. They took out the lunch counter only a few years before I patronized them, but the victuals were pretty much the same traditional fare of breakfast in the morning, club sandwiches, hamburgers, chicken-fried steak and chef’s salads, slice of pie, etc. at noon.
I got talking to the owner/cook once about my favorite topic and asked him cautiously whether he thought the secret of his hashbrowns lay in executing them on a griddle. I asked him whether he was able to duplicate the quality at home in his kitchen. He was very open—I needn’t have been sheepish. He told me he believed the goodness of his browns was due to his method of cooking, to wit:
|—onion, sliced thin and clarified|
|—peppers (jalapeño or bell)|
Toss ingredients hot on the griddle and serve with salsa. To stave off mess on the griddle, sprinkle the cheese on after serving and retoss.
|—very lightly cooked egg, scrambled|
|—well cooked, drained, blotted and coarsely chopped bacon|
|—sliced Paris mushrooms sautéed in butter|
|—onion, sliced thin and clarified|
|—peppers (jalapeño or multicolored bell)|
Big caveat here: DO NOT OVER-COOK THE EGGS! Cook the eggs in a separate skillet and remember that they will continue to cook after scraping them into the browns, so as soon as they are barely past the liquid state, stop.
Toss ingredients hot on the griddle. However, you will make them mushy and nasty if you a) over-cook the browns, b) toss too much, or c) put too much cheese on them (as hard to believe as that is).
|½ cup||finely chopped onion|
|¼ cup||all-purpose flour|
|—||salt and pepper|
Shred potatos, rinse well and press out moisture. Add onion, flour, egg and seasoning. Mix until ingredients evenly distributed and fry in well greased pan or griddle. Drain excess grease and serve.
It beats me what the flour is for. Isn't that why we rinsed the starch from the grated potatoes? The idea here is to make a little cake.