Hash Browns

A simple food that is heart healthy, full of potassium from potatoes and good fats from olive oil. Using too much salt is bad, though, as is burning the oil or the potatoes. While I always use a bit of salt when serving to other people, to me they taste just fine without it--the maillard and the oil and the potato do just fine by themselves and especially so if you use ketchup.

Once you have the hang of this you can make delicious hash browns with three minutes of work and twelve minutes of waiting.

Ingredients

Equipment

Heat your skillet or griddle up to about medium. Whatever temperature you use for bacon and eggs is probably fine.

If you happen to live in my house, use the stainless steel skillet and the bottom-left burner, which should be set to 2 on the right side of the dial. Or put the griddle on 350F.

Coat the skillet with olive oil.

DO heat up the oil a bit (until water sizzles, at least) before you put the hash browns on, but DO NOT wait for it to smoke. If it does start smoking a bit, that's OK, but start checking the bottom a minute early to make sure it's not too done. If it smokes more than a bit, toss the oil, clean the pan and start over.

The first time you do this you may want to prepare the potatoes before heating the oil, but generally you want to heat the oil while shredding the potatoes to save time and help prevent the potatoes from turning grey.

Now shred potatoes. Wash them first. You can use a food processor, but I almost always just grab a box shredder and shred over several layers of paper towels. However you shred them, they should end up on paper towels or cheesecloth or similar so you can squeeze water out. You don't have to squeeze all the water out of the potatoes--in fact you should move quickly to avoid them turning grey--but generally the more water you squeeze out the crispier and tastier they will be. This is because water at the cooking surface keeps the surface temperature around 212F, which prevents the maillard reaction (yummy browning) and makes the surface soggy. In order to achieve a nice brown, crisp surface the water at the surface has to completely evaporate. Less water at the surface combined with less water inside the hash browns trying to escape to the surface makes this happen more efficiently.

All that said, you can make decent hash browns without squeezing out any water, it's just trickier and takes longer.

Now toss your shredded potatoes in the skiller or on the griddle. In a skillet I usually make one large, pan-filing portion. On a griddle I divide it up into individual portions. You can try out different thicknesses to see what you like, mine are probably about finger thick. Thinner will be cripier, thicker will have more fluffy potato inside. It's all good.

Once in skillet, after hitting with a dash of salt and pepper, I generally put it in a quick circle of olive oil around the pan above the potatoes to help keep them from sticking and ensure crispy edges. I also put some olive oil on top of the potatoes, which a) prevents them from turning grey and b) provides oil to that surface once they are flipped. My olive oil bottle has a spout on it--yours should, too.

After you put the potatoes down, DO NOT mess with them until you need to check or (better) until it's time to flip them. Any disturbances reduce the surface temperature, which stops water from evaporating and kills the maillard reaction.

Until you have this all dialed in you should be checking around four minutes, but I cook them six minutes per side and that's pretty consistent on the skillet. My griddle (and probably yours) has hot and cold spots so my middle portions are done at six minutes but the ones on the edge of the griddle might take a little longer.

At six minutes I take a steel spatula, turn it upside down and work it around the edges of the hash browns until the portion is loose, then I flip. In the skillet I just flip the whole thing with the pan once it's loose--otherwise you'll need a very large spatula to keep it all together.

Cook six more minutes and you should have hash browns.

If you want to shred potatoes in advance you have a couple of options:

  1. shred, squeeze and cover with oil
  2. shred and cover with water, then squeeze later

Either way you have to keep oxygen from the exposed surfaces of the potato to prevent them from turning grey and then black.