Hash browns are the dish that turns a simple breakfast a hearty breakfast. Cereal is fine for a quick start to your morning, and eggs and toast are great, but, when you add hash browns to the mix, breakfast becomes a real sit-down meal and one that will stick with you all the way until lunch.
The key to perfectly done, crispy hash browns is all tied up in the flip. Hash browns should be flipped only once, and then only after about six to eight minutes. However, it's a really big help if you use the correct pan, correct potatoes and correct amount of oil in the pan.
Making Hash Browns
Most people think that making hash browns simply means to dump some oil into a pan, add a cup or so of shredded potatoes to the mix and cook them, turning every so often. But while that's the general idea, that's not all there is to it. Perfect hash browns require some specific utensils, a specific potato and a little bit of cooking finesse.
Use the correct pan. Hash browns crisp best when made in a cast iron skillet.
Use the correct potato. Hash browns can be made with any potato but are best when made with a high-starch potato, such as a Russet potato. Red Pontiac potatoes also work well for hash browns. If using new baby Red Pontiacs, don't bother peeling the potatoes. It takes too long to peel them, and the peel actually adds a lot of flavor to the dish. Additionally, excellent hash browns can be made from leftover boiled potatoes or even from mashed potatoes. (A scoop of crispy refried mashed potatoes with a sunny-side up egg on top is heavenly in the morning.)
Use the correct heat. To make hash browns, you'll want a medium high heat. Too high and the potatoes will burn. This is why butter is a bad idea when making hash browns. Too low and the potatoes will soak up the oil and not crisp.
Use the correct chopping method. If you're using unpeeled raw potatoes, wash and slice the potatoes rather than shredding or cubing them. If you're using peeled potatoes, use a potato ricer. (When using a potato ricer you end up with less moisture and the potatoes crisp faster.) If using raw potatoes, try to pat them with a paper towel to pick up as much moisture as possible before placing the potatoes into the pan. Too much moisture and the potatoes will actually steam or boil in the pan rather than fry. If using boiled potatoes, simply slice the potatoes into the pan. If using mashed potatoes, dump them into the hot oil, and press them into the pan. Salt and pepper, and cover the pan. Set the timer for six minutes, and don't flip them until the timer rings.
Use the correct amount of oil or butter. Since butter will burn easily, always use oil. About two tablespoons of oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan, and you'll have just enough to fry the potatoes but not enough to make them too greasy. Non-stick vegetable spray can also be used, but it has a tendency to burn, so watch it closely.
Add flavor. Add about two tablespoons of chopped fresh onion to the pan, and sauté the onions for about two minutes before adding the potatoes. Chopped bell peppers, zucchini, garlic and fresh herbs, as well as a little bit of sausage, really add a lot of flavor to this delicious dish.
Flip only once. Set the timer for six minutes and, when it rings, check the potatoes. They should be crispy by now, but, if they are not, wait another minute or two. Generally six to eight minutes of patience per side makes for a perfectly crispy hash brown. Do not flip until the potatoes are golden and crispy. If the potatoes are turning crispy or beginning to burn before the six-minute timeframe, you'll know your heat is a little too high.
Salt and pepper. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper to one side of the hash browns only. Too much salt and you ruin the taste. Besides, everyone likes to sprinkle their own salt and pepper on their plate.
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