A Hack For Hash Browns - Item #1 From the JUNCTION HOLLOW DINER
Updated: Sep 28, 2022
For a dish with only two ingredients, Classic Hash Browns is really hard to make. I took this as a challenge, and I found a useful hack.
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I’ve yet to meet a fellow human who likes potatoes but doesn’t LOVE hash browns. As one whose great-great grandparents crossed the Atlantic to escape a potato famine, I am perhaps genetically predisposed to love the lowly spud in every form imaginable... especially hash browns. And yet, for someone who greatly enjoys cooking I have met with considerable frustration trying to make hash browns at home. I recently decided that this ends NOW, and I began searching for a solution worthy of sharing at Danny’s Table.
The Classic Hash Browns recipe is made by frying shredded potatoes in butter… simple, right? But the potatoes must be a specific type– Russets, a.k.a. Baking Potatoes. They must be properly shredded, rinsed, and then squeezed mightily in a towel that you won’t mind ripping with the force required to extract all possible moisture. Then you need to use them before they turn an ugly shade of gray. And the butter? It has to be CLARIFIED butter.
So, to make Classic Hash Browns, just get ¼” or so of clarified butter nice and hot, then drop in a handful of the shredded Russets you’ve squeezed dry. (Oh– you make these hash browns one at a time or else further invite failure.) Quickly marshal the mass into a somewhat circular and uniformly thick shape, and then let it cook. When the first side is properly browned, carefully flip it… and herein lies this recipe’s major rub– if you flip it too soon, you’ll have instant potato confetti, revealing, perhaps, why “hash browns” is plural. And if you wait too long… well, no one likes burned potatoes. So how do you know? You don’t, so you have to guess. And if you’ve guessed correctly, you still have barely more than a 50% chance of successfully flipping it because they are that fragile. But if the stars align– if your potatoes behave and your iron pan is in a good mood… if you manage to flip it and cook both sides just right… then maybe (but hardly always) you are rewarded with this–
A rare example of perfect Classic Hash Browns– made from nothing but potatoes and clarified butter, and every bit as delicate and beautiful as an almond lace cookie. The first time you nail one like this, you won’t know whether to eat it or have it bronzed.
So– all that effort and precision for something with a 50% failure rate that you have to make one at a time AND, by the way, eat immediately for best results? What about real-world applications, like, say, when you need to make breakfast for an octet of hungry teenagers? There’s got to be a better way, right? Alas, life is full of compromises and trade-offs… in this case, however, we arrive at a reliable recipe and technique for hash browns by sacrificing only the exquisite, all-the-way-through crunch of the classic version shown above. And while we’re at it, we sneak in a little extra flavor.
Here’s what I’ve come up with– a somewhat tedious but largely foolproof recipe that yields about 8 decent-sized units of what I would call Hybrid Hash Browns, as they really are a mash-up (absolutely unintentional pun) of hash browns and potato pancakes. As per my research, shredded White Potatoes bind together quite nicely but do not brown especially well, and Russets do the exact opposite. So what we’re doing here is obliging nature by using Whites on the inside and Russets on the exterior.
2 mixing bowls
Manual Shredder (We are shredding potatoes, not grating them.)
Big Iron Pan
2 Medium White Potatoes
2 Russet (a.k.a. Baking) Potatoes
¼ Cup Potato Flour
Salt & Pepper
Granulated Garlic (optional)
1 White Onion (optional)
If you’ve seen my treatise on onions, you’ll understand that when I say white onion, I really mean WHITE onion… even though, biochemically speaking, it is really a matter of taste, which is why I’ve made them optional in the first place. But it’s different with potatoes, as the different types vary in starch content, which affects the way they behave when cooked. So PLEASE resist the temptation to economize with a single five-lb. bag of one type of taters or the other, because you really need both White and Russet potatoes. (Most grocery stores sell them individually, so you won’t get stuck with way more than you need.)
Peel the Russets and keep them in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation, which turns them an unattractive color. Shred them into the same water and allow the result to soak while you peel the Whites and then shred them into a separate bowl. (Please stop short of shredding your own flesh. Potatoes are inexpensive, so it's okay to throw away the last little piece before you risk drawing blood.)
Next, peel and shred the Whites into a (dry) bowl. Dump them out onto a kitchen towel to dry for a bit, then return to the bowl you just cleaned out and dried. Next, whip the egg (you can use a coffee cup and a fork) and mix it thoroughly with the shredded Whites. Sprinkle in the potato flour and the salt and pepper to your taste as well as the garlic powder, if desired, and mix thoroughly.
My search for pure, unadulterated potato flour turned up this, which I’m happy to recommend. If your search takes you to the kosher section, make sure that you are buying pure potato flour and NOT a potato pancake mix loaded with extraneous ingredients. Also, as I’ve stated in other recipes, I strongly prefer high-quality granulated garlic to garlic powder.
If you opt to add onion to the mix, I have three recommendations– One, use thinly sliced WHITE onion; Two, gently wilt the slices in just enough grapeseed oil over low heat, stopping well short of browning; and Three, lay them out on a paper towel square after cooking, cover them with another square, and roll them up for a bit. This will draw off a lot of the oil and make them bind better with the other ingredients. Combine with the bowl of shredded Whites.
Now we rinse and dry out the Russets. Strain the shreddings, return them to the bowl, and give them another quick soak and a rinse. Strain again, and then lay them out on a sturdy kitchen towel. Roll it up and squeeze the living bejesus out of it, extracting as much water as possible. (Since Andrea does the laundry in our house, I like to repeat this process with a second towel.)
And finally, before we get cooking, a word about clarified butter– If you’ve taken my advice and now Shop Like A Pro, you’ll see 5 lb. tubs of it at Restaurant Depot; if not, you can search the Internet (clarified butter is also called GHEE.) Or, in a pinch, you can even make your own, a process that I have found difficult, expensive, and wasteful. Just please don’t cook any type of hash browns in un-clarified butter because it will burn too easily, and also resist the temptation to cook them in oil or (uggh!) margarine.
Now it’s show time. Get a generous glop of clarified butter hot in your iron pan. Using your bare hands rather than some sort of implement, drop a small scoop of the White potato mix into the Russet shreds, forming a pancake by flattening it as you gently encourage shreds of the Russets to adhere to its exterior. The result should remind you of coconut-battered shrimp. Place it in the hot butter, pat it flat with your spatula, and then make another two of these (or however many fit in your pan.) They should look like this–
Because these hold together so well, you can flip them as many times as necessary. After a few minutes and a couple of turns, they’ll look like THIS–
The result will be nicely crunchy (like Classic Hash Browns) on the outside, and creamy (like really good mashed potatoes) on the inside. If it didn’t sound so stupid, I would consider calling this creation “Potato Oreos.”
I have found that, as opposed to Classic Hash Browns, this Hybrid version keeps nicely in a warm oven while you are cooking multiple pan-fuls of them, making it perfect for feeding a large group. And if you ever find yourself unsure exactly what to do with them when they’re done cooking, I happily refer you to the homemade ketchup recipe recently posted by my lovable and talented webmistress WinH. My Hybrid Potatoes and her Homemade Ketchup is truly a match made in heaven.