It’s hard to beat the breakfast hash brown—that sizzling, golden brown patty that crackles as you dig your fork in for a bite. Most folks mistake this classic for restaurant fare only. However, with these tips and tricks, even rookie chefs can enjoy a homemade hash, or at least something dang close. For all you doubting Thomases, we’ve even included scientific explanations for why you shouldn’t mess with the system.
Pick your tots wisely.
What kind of potatoes you use can make a big difference on how your hash browns turn out and it all boils down to starch content. Of the 18% carbohydrates that make potatoes, 85% are starches. These starch granules are glued together with non-starch polysaccharides (NSP, for short) like pectin and cellulose. When the potato granules are exposed to heat during cooking, they swell up, release their starches, and eventually separate in an irreversible process called gelatinization. (The perfect example of this is over-boiled potatoes that fall apart.)
Depending on their type, starches can have one of two effects on the cooked potato. If they’re a kind of starch called amylose, they’re less sensitive to the gelatinization effect and result in a gummy texture. If they’re a starch called amylopectin, the gelatinization effect is more dramatic, producing a grainy texture. All potatoes contain both types of starch, but some potatoes contain more of one than other. This is the key to proper potato selection.
For best results, use a balanced potato that errs on the side of grainy. Yukon gold and red potatoes are hard to go wrong with. In a pinch, it’s true you can use about any potato, buty ou might wind up with a batch that won’t hold together or is closer to a pancake than a hash brown.
Break out your cheese grater.
Slicing potatoes hash brown-style is monotonous and pointless. Use the wide teeth of your cheese grater to easily shred your potatoes into the perfect shape.
Most people will also peel their potatoes. While this is best practice and will get you the crispiest results, if you are rushed, lazy, or want the nutritional benefit (potato skins are rich in vitamins and minerals), this writer has experimented and confirmed it’s okay to leave them on.
Do the soak.
Do not skip this step or we guarantee your hash browns will disappoint. Even when using the ideal potato, soaking and rinsing is critical because the fewer starches, the better your chances of a balanced hash brown that’s neither too waxy nor too crumbly. A five-minute bath in cold water will leach the excess starches out of your potatoes. For maximum efficiency, shred your potatoes directly into their bath and, once their soak is up, rinse in a strainer until the water runs clear.
Work your triceps.
Once you’ve rinsed your potatoes, squeeze them out and spread a thin layer on a kitchen towel to airdry. You’ll be frying your potatoes in oil; since oil and water don’t mix, and it’s the oil that prevents your potatoes from sticking. The drier your potatoes, the better. To speed the process up, you can roll the towel into a tube with the potatoes inside and press down firmly.
Make it hot and don’t be skimpy.
Whether you use a frying pan, griddle, or cast-iron skillet, be sure to preheat it over a medium-high setting. Every stove is different, but, generally, a good time to flip the stove on is while your potatoes are drying.
Another nonnegotiable—and diet-wrecking—step to restaurant quality hash browns is a copious pour of vegetable or sunflower oil. Usually about a quarter cup will do the trick, or until the bottom of your pan has an eighth of an inch thick layer. Just be sure to add the oil before the pan is hot to avoid dangerous splatters.
No peeking toms.
After heating your oil and adding a generous layer of potatoes, cover them with a lid and wait. Every time you lift the lid, it releases steam that cooks the center of your hash browns. Give them at least three minutes before checking in on them. As the potatoes crisp up, they’ll start to dehydrate and shrink. When you check on your hash browns, flatten them out with a spatula to ensure they’re sticking together. Wait until the bottom is golden brown before flipping—usually seven minutes hits the mark. Keep the pan uncovered for the second side. Once that crisps up, your hash browns are complete.
Make it pretty or keep it basic.
For the ultimate hash brown bonanza, serve your hash browns topped with sunny side eggs, chopped avocado, tomatoes, and seared onions. Zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata or green olives are another winning combination. It’s hard to go wrong with the egg, meat, and vegetable combination of your preference. Of course, going solo is always a tasty option for hash browns.