No #RecipeUpTop on this one because, like some of our previous posts, this one is super basic, but almost entirely reliant on technique and a few tricks to get you where you’re going.
To prove my point, here’s the ingredient list: two (2) potatoes, 2 tablespoons veg oil, salt. That’s it. And it takes like ten minutes.
I’ve seen countless recipes with all kinds of tortured methodology, and weird additives like cornstarch or dextrose or whatever, and it’s just not necessary.
And, look, I get it. For a long time, in our past life, we relied on bagged, frozen processed shredded potatoes from the grocery store, which were full of all kinds of things that weren’t potatoes, but were bizarrely expensive. I’d also tried to make hashed browns at home, and failed miserably.
Until I figured it out. So let’s get to it.
Step One: rinse and grate your potatoes. For your potatoes, you want russets or “mealy” potatoes, versus red or “waxy” potatoes (which are more suited to roasting, but more on that later). Anyway, rinse them off and use a basic box grater (or the grating disc on a food processor if you’re extra lazy) to shred them down over a clean tea towel:
The shredded potatoes will oxidize and turn brown, and I’ve seen a lot of recipes that go to great lengths to prevent this, which makes absolutely no sense to me. We’re browning them anyway, and it doesn’t affect taste or texture, so who cares? In five minutes they’ll be cooked.
So, what’s up with the tea towel? Well, in order to get nice, crispy browns, we need to get as much water out of the potatoes as possible. Otherwise, that water will convert to steam, and we’ll end up with gluey, sad, steamed potatoes. So….
Step two: wring out your potatoes over the sink. Twist up the towel around the potatoes like this:
Then, using two hands, wring them out as much as you can. Afterwards, the won’t look much different, but believe me, they are:
That liquid is all the water that came out of two small potatoes, nearly a half cup. Significant.
Step three: heat an empty skillet over medium-high heat. Do not add any oil yet. For my part, I’m going with ol’ faithful here:
Once it gets good and hot, add a tablespoon of veg oil, then toss in the shredded potatoes but DO NOT SALT THEM (I’ll explain in a minute). Using a spatula or tongs, gently move the potatoes around to coat them in the oil, then form them into two patties, gently press down, and walk away. DO NOT TOUCH THEM UNTIL TIME TO FLIP.
So, what’s going on here? Why not salt? Why be gentile? While leave them alone? Well, we’re trying for a very specific thing, which is crispy, crunchy browns.
While we removed a lot of the water from the potatoes, there’s still plenty in there. Adding salt now will draw that moisture out too quickly, and we’ll have glue.
Secondly, as the potatoes hit the pan and the heat starts to break apart the cell walls, excessive stirring or movement will turn everything into mush, which is why we want some gentle action to get the browns covered in oil, but not so much as to make them turn, yes, to glue.
So, let them cruise until time to flip. How will you know? well, take a look at the bits around the edges:
See? Crispy and brown. So just flip them, right? NOT SO FAST!
Step four: the flip. Get your spatula handy, and distribute the remaining oil directly over the top of the browns, then flip, taking care to make sure they don’t fold over on themselves and hit the pan evenly. Give a little press with the spatula, and go ahead and salt the now-browned tops:
Ta-DA! Again, let these sit until they’re done. How will you know? Well, it’s going to take about the same amount of time as the first side. The good news is that it’s really, really hard to burn these if you’re using enough oil. SIDE NOTE: If you’re having fried eggs with these (which I usually do), now is the time to get those in the pan (or a separate pan) to make sure everything is done at the same time.
When you’re confident the underside is done, give them one more flip and season with salt:
And that’s it. Serve however you want, but I’d recommend a few sunny-side eggs and some hot sauce, with a strong cup of coffee.