Weekend Dish column: The golden goodness of hash browns
The Weekend Dish
Potatoes are a beloved food staple across the world. They come in many different varieties, including julienne, mashed, scalloped, diced, sliced, boiled, steamed, and so many more. I have even devoted previous columns to those beguiling French fries that we all love.
Potatoes are more interesting than most of us realize. They are tuber roots found on the potato plant and are part of the nightshade family. Some nightshades are toxic, but we still eat or smoke them. Tomatoes and tobacco are also in this family.
Potatoes with skin contain potassium, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B6. They are mostly carbs but also have fibers and some protein. They are a good source of lutein, which is excellent for eye health.
They thrive in many placed including here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Woody Creek ranchers have raised them for over 100 years. The famous Woody Creek Distillers vodka uses these local potatoes today.
Potatoes can be simple to cook. The most basic recipe calls for boiling, baking or even microwaving them while they are still in their skins. More elaborate methods involve mixing or mashing them while adding additional ingredients.
Hash browns are one such dish and are an American favorite. The name refers to the fried small pieces of potatoes that are golden brown. They can be mixed with onions, peppers, garlic and cooked in shortening, vegetable or olive oil.
Like so many recipes that I profile, the origins of hash browns are slightly unclear. The Idaho Potato Commission, surely a reputable source, provides some vague information about their history.
Hash browns first appeared on breakfast menus in New York City either in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. They closely resemble Swiss Rösti, which is a potato fritter that dates back to the Middle Ages. Chefs would use the odd ends and scraps from French fries in their hash brown preparation.
The idea of “hashing” leftovers has been around for centuries. Potatoes keep well in a cool or dark place, but they will eventually spoil. Hashing them up, adding some salt and frying them in oil makes a lot of sense.
Hash browns began to rise in popularity in the United States during the 1950s. Coincidentally, they rose to fame as many fast-food chains took off. It makes sense that such burger joints would have extra fries lying around to use.
Processed hash browns also appeared around this time for mass-production. They can be kept frozen for months, and they are incredibly simple to make. They are a popular staple at American diners and fast food joints.
Depending on which part of the country you are in, hash browns are called country fried potatoes or home fries. They can even contain more exotic ingredients like hot peppers, ham or green chile.
Serves four to six people
6 Russet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
- Rinse potatoes and dry them. Grate them into a large bowl.
- Add water to bowl until potatoes are submerged. Soak for about five minutes.
- Microwave potatoes for about six minutes or until water starts to boil.
- Gently rinse potatoes until water turns clear. Carefully drain and place on a clean kitchen towel.
- Roll up towel and firmly squeeze out water over sink. Continue to ring towel until most of the water and starch have been squeezed out.
- In a large skillet or frying pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, carefully add potatoes, garlic and any other ingredients, and salt or other seasonings to taste.
- Smooth potatoes into an even layer with a spatula. Cook for about 10 minutes until the bottom side turns golden.
- Either flip or stir the potatoes to cook the other side. Continue to fry until potatoes are cooked as desired. Serve immediately.
Preparing hash browns can be very simple, but a little extra care makes the difference between crisp and golden versus chewy and soggy textures. There are a few tricks to achieve optimal results. Choosing the right potato makes a difference, too.
The higher the starch content of a potato, the crispier it gets when fried. Russet potatoes are best, but Yukon Golds and White potatoes work, too. Avoid waxy, low-starch potatoes like Red, New or Fingerling varieties.
Excess starch and moisture can also interfere with the final results. Most hash brown recipes suggest rinsing then soaking potatoes in water to remove excess starch. If you rinse them, it can be difficult to contain all of the tiny pieces.
Once you soak and rinse the potatoes, you should also squeeze out extra moisture. Place them in a clean towel and then ring them out over a sink.
If you have extra time and ambition, you can also parboil or cook them in the microwave. Parboiling works best for larger chunks of potatoes, as it helps prepare them so that they will fry more quickly in the pan.
If you do not have the time nor patience for these preps, then it is OK to grate them and fry in oil. Results may vary, but they should still be delicious.
The type of frying oil can also make a difference. Since these are cooked at high heat, make sure to choose an oil with a high smoke point such as canola or extra virgin olive oil, and even clarified butter or vegetable shortening (at lower heats).
Season them with salt and pepper, or add more flavor with onions, garlic, peppers or a splash of hot sauce. The trick to frying them is cooking them thoroughly on one side for at least five minutes or until golden brown. From there, stir or flip them like a pancake or omelet.
Try any or all of these approaches above. Serve these with eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. I used Morningstar Farms vegetarian bacon with mine. Don’t forget the coffee and orange juice, too, for the quintessential American breakfast.
This a forgiving breakfast to make, and hash browns go well with so many other foods. While potatoes are widespread across the world, hash browns are indeed an American creation. Their unique varieties reflect the fabric of this country.
The golden goodness of hash browns are part of a complete breakfast.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
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Chef Hunter Hale went into business with his parents to bring an American bistro to Carbondale.