Help me make awesome hash browned potatoes again!
March 8, 2014 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Many years ago as a bachelor I used to make great hash browned potatoes (hash browns). All I can remember is that I used to par-boil them first, then put them in the fridge. The next day, or several days later I would then shred them with a cheese grater, right into the cast iron skillet, which already had hot oil in it, and fry up some great eating.

Now, years of marriage have made me a horrible cook, but I am trying to replicate my hash browns. I have tried par-cooking them in the microwave and just starting out with raw potatoes. Either way, when I shred them, they seem a lot wetter and goopier than I remember from before. I used plan old russet potatoes but I can't remember if I boiled them or used the (conventional) oven (no microwaves back then) to pre-cook them. In any case, they came out better than they do now. Further, they were not grated, washed and dried which I see commonly recommended now.

If you could share your secrets to getting them in a dryer, better looking state just before adding them to the skillet, maybe I can savor my old potatoes again.
posted by Rad_Boy to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Par-cooking potatoes (peeled at least, I assume) and then leaving them in the fridge will help to dry them out.

Are you using the same kind of potatoes? "Floury" potatoes, like Russets, are usually the right type for hash browns. "Waxy" potatoes, like red potatoes and Yukon Golds, will have a different consistency because of different proportions of starches.

Depending on how much work you want to put into it, there are several ways you could get the potatoes drier. Here's what I'd recommend: peel and grate the potatoes raw. Add to a pot of cold water, bring to boil. When it boils, drain in a strainer or colander, then spread the grated potato out on a sheet pan and put it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, they can go straight into the frying pan.

If you parboil a lot of potatoes, you can freeze some for later, ready to go into the skillet. Move the sheet pan to the freezer, make sure the shredded potato is spread out evenly, and let them freeze in the open, then move into a freezer bag. If you live somewhere in the polar vortex, the outdoor freezer will work even better at temperatures and wind chill under 0 F.
posted by WasabiFlux at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

A shortcut to leaving them in the fridge is to parboil, shred, then rinse in a colander several times.
posted by rhizome at 1:45 PM on March 8, 2014

Try baking the potatoes ahead of time rather than boiling them. Much drier. Also, have you got the same kind of stove now as you had back then? (electric vs. gas?) And you're still using a cast iron skillet like back then, not a nonstick? - No matter how perfect your recipe is, it'll come out a little differently sometimes even when you always use the same variety of potato. Starch content varies in various crops, I am told. (A good friend of mine is the owner/cook of a breakfast place that makes glorious hash browns, and has given me instruction.) They are the most perfect iteration of the glorious potato! I wish you good luck.
posted by tomboko at 2:09 PM on March 8, 2014

Cook's Illustrated's recipe for latkes involves parcooking, shredding and then wringing the potatoes out in a clean tea towel before adding the rest of the ingredients. I'd start with this approach if I were to make drier, crisper potatoes.
posted by mmascolino at 2:11 PM on March 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

What you need is a ricer. Grate a raw potato, then use the ricer to squeeze all the excess water and starch out. Season a little, form into patties and fry. Works a treat. They also make perfect mashed potatoes. If you get one, make sure it's metal; the plastic ones break stupidly easily.
posted by peteyjlawson at 2:12 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know it lacks class, but this product is excellent.

Usually the bag is frozen into a single chunk, but I've found that if you put the entire unopened bag in the microwave for 1 minute, it breaks up the chunk without cooking anything. Then you can pour them into a fry pan which already has oil or melted butter, and fry away.

They come out great!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:29 PM on March 8, 2014

My bet is that you actually boiled them--baked Russets don't so much grate as they kinda crumble, in my experience. Is it possible that you didn't used to cover them in the fridge, and now you are? That will make a big difference in the relative dryness, as will leaving them 48 hours (a couple days) vs 12 (overnight/the next day).

I'd try boiling, then leaving them uncovered in the fridge for at least a full 24 hours, then grating them into the pan. Since you're an adult now, you could also level up by adding a bit of grated onion once the potatoes are in, because yum.
posted by MeghanC at 2:32 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is what my Mom always did when making latkes/potato pancakes: shredding and then wringing the potatoes out in a clean tea towel to get as much liquid out as possible. She swore it made all the difference and I think she was correct. I would try this method for hash browns as well. She kept a tea towel reserved for this use that she made sure did not have any laundry detergent residue.
posted by gudrun at 3:12 PM on March 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Theory: maybe years ago you half-assed the storage, meaning that you didn't seal the foil or whatever properly, giving them more time to dry out in the fridge. By the time they hit the pan, they were pretty dry. I'll further submit that if you were a novice, no-frills cook at the time, you were using overcooked baked potatoes.

posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:28 PM on March 8, 2014

Thread reminds me of this post by Elise @ SimplyRecipes and her parents' hash-brown discussion:
posted by easement1 at 5:30 PM on March 8, 2014

The only thing I see missing is squeezing out excess water before refrigeration. Otherwise, cook them longer. No, longer than that!

Hash browns take longer to cook than it seems like they ought. I have known this for years and they STILL take longer than I think they need.
posted by aniola at 4:59 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you need is a ricer. Grate a raw potato, then use the ricer to squeeze all the excess water and starch out.

Just...for anyone as dense as I am: Not by trying to squeeze the grated potato through the ricer, but by holding it upside to let the water drain, as illustrated by easement1's link. I grew up with the towel method, but this seems like it wouldn't be as messy.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:12 AM on March 9, 2014

According to America's Test Kitchen, you need to boil them whole, with the skin on - this prevents the meat of the potato from absorbing as much moisture. Peel them after they have cooled and dried.
posted by jbickers at 9:05 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Low tech towel/ricer alternative: I squeeze the shreds dry *with my bare hands.*

muscular pose
posted by aniola at 11:02 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Over the weekend I finally had time to do some experimenting. Keeping a long story short, I found the best way to easily make hash browns is to partially cook the whole potatoes in the oven. Set up just like you were baking one or more whole potatoes (russets), but remove them early. I cooked mine in a pre-heated 350° oven for 30 minutes. Take them out, let them cool, and put them in the fridge. When you grate these they are not mushy or slimey and make great hash browns. Enjoy!
posted by Rad_Boy at 12:03 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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