Introduction: Hash Browns: the Holy Grail of Breakfast

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For perfect, light, crispy, delicious hash browns, every time, use this method. I'll also show some ways not to make hash browns, as well as an experiment showing what happens when you skip the crucial step.

Hash browns (along with biscuits, which I haven't yet mastered [edit: now I have! see here]), are the holy grail of breakfast. Done right, they are crispy, light, and delicious, worthy of every praise and love-song ever written in honor of food. Done wrong, they are mushy, soaked in oil, half-burned and mangled. They are, to borrow from the Grinch, "an appalling dump heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots".

But once you figure them out, they're surprisingly easy. Get excited.

What you need:

  • Potatoes
  • A grater
  • A strainer
  • Oil or butter
  • A frying pan & spatula

Step 1: Grate Your Potatoes

OK, you knew this. Peel or wash first.

Step 2: Rinse Your Potato Shreds

Pour your shreds into a strainer and rinse them out. You can also put them in a bowl, fill it with water and potato shreds, then strain and repeat until the water runs clean.

This is where the magic happens. When you do this, you will see your shreds turn from a gray, mushy mass into crisp, white shreds of delicious potato goodness. According to the (always reliable) internet, you are removing "the starches" in this step. I'm not sure why this makes a difference, but it sure does. All the difference.

Step 3: Squeeze the Water Out

No need to go crazy here. Just grab the potatoes in your hands and squeeze some water out of them so they aren't sopping wet. 

Some people will use a towel and twist it. Others get "potato-ricers" (giant garlic press type contraptions that will squeeze every last ounce of moisture from potato shreds). This is only necessary if you haven't already rinsed the potatoes. If you have rinsed them, then squeezing really isn't all that important (see the experiment at the end of this instructable).

Step 4: Fry

Put oil, bacon grease, butter, or something else that sounds tasty in a pan. Get it hot before adding your potato (you can check this by adding a few shreds... they should sizzle).

Add your potato and pack it into a patty (see below for thickness). Check for done-ness on the bottom side before flipping. It will probably take around 5 minutes per side. Try to only flip once. If the hashbrowns fall apart, that's fine: just flip in pieces.

That's it. This is probably the point at which you usually get frustrated, but with these rinsed potato shreds, things will go much easier.

Now, how thick should you pack? How much grease/oil should you use? There are two main schools of thought here:
  1. Dangerously Crispy: This is what I show in the front picture. Crispy through and through. To get these, you should:
    • Use a generous amount of oil. 1/8 inch deep-ish. You're almost deep-frying (but remember, the oil should be hot before you add the potatoes... otherwise they'll soak it up like greedy oil-loving little sponges).
    • Pack your potato patty thin (like 1/4 inch thick).
    • Be patient.
  2. Diner Style: This is what you get at Denny's (also shown on the first page). Crispy on the outside, but thick enough to have a soft middle. To get these, you should:
    • Use less butter / oil (maybe a quarter cup for a pan).
    • Pack the potato patty a little thicker (like 1/2 inch thick).
    • Cook a little slower, so you can cook all the potatoes without scorching the outsides. Medium to Medium Low heat.
    • Be prepared for significantly more falling-apart-ish-ness. That's ok. If it melts in your mouth, it will probably also melt on the spatula. Practice makes perfect.
Both options are delicious. Adding onion or other veggies is also delicious. Just about anything that involves potatoes and oil in the morning has the potential to be delicious.

Step 5: Ways to Go Wrong

There are lots of ways to go wrong. For example, you could:
  1. FAIL TO RINSE THE POTATOES! It's hard to win if you do this. For one of the experimental trials, (and for my whole life before I discovered this trick), I made this mistake. it leads to grayish, mushy, gooey, nasty, hash brown impostors.
  2. Put the potatoes in the oil before it's heated. This is a sure way to end up drinking a few tablespoons of oil for breakfast. Always check that the oil's hot enough to sizzle a few potato shreds before you put the rest in.
  3. Flip too early. Potatoes take a while to cook. Lift up the edge of your patty to check, but don't flip until the bottom side looks the way you want it. The more you flip, the more chance you're going to damage your patty, and the worse the end result will turn out.

Step 6: Experimental Results

In this experiment, I grate three potatoes and make three hash brown patties (all of the dangerously crispy variety).

  • In group A, I grate the potatoes and do nothing else to them before cooking.
  • In group B, I grate the potatoes and then rinse them before cooking.
  • In group C, I grate the potatoes, rinse them, and then squeeze them before cooking.

Results: A << B < C (or, if you're not a math / engineering person, C is better than B, and both C and B are WAY better than A).

Lesson Learned: Rinse your hash browns. Watch the 3-minute video to see for yourself:

Step 7: Bonus: Take Your Hash Browns to the Next Level

If you are unwilling to accept anything but the utmost perfection, there is one final thing you can do to make your hash browns just a smidgeon better: pre-boil them. I got this tip from dropkick, and almost a year later, I've finally got around to testing it. If you have a day to plan ahead and you like thick, diner-style hash browns, this technique is definitely worth a try. Check out my website and blog for the details and experimental results (and check out my novels and short stories while you're at it!).

Thanks for reading.

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