How do I get evenly browned pan-fried potatoes?
April 8, 2006 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Is there an easy way to ensure that pan fried potatoes wind up evenly browned on all sides?

I don't know if it's my stirring technique or what, but I find that I eventually have to turn over every chunk of potatoinividually if I want them to be browned evenly.

In general, I use Yukon potatoes, a teflon or cast iron skillet that's pretty heavy, fill the pan with only one layer, and make sure I have adequate oil (i.e, a tablespoon or so--don't want the heart to shut down on me!).

Should I be shaking the pan instead of turning with a spatula? I love potatoes, so I need to know!
posted by bloggerwench to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's Cook's Illustrated recipe for "Classic Hash Browns" and their Oven-roasted potatoes.

Not quite what you're looking for, but possible alternatives.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:54 AM on April 8, 2006

Potatoes "brown" when sugars in the potatoes caramelize. Some potatoes have far more sugar/solids than others, and storage conditions and pre-processing methods make a big difference in the degree and consistency of browning you will get. Generally, I recommend russet Burbank potatoes for frying, and I suggest blanching for 1 minute and shocking in ice water, after peeling and cubing, to prepare the surface of the cubes for frying with minimum soak up of oil. To initiate carmelization without burning, you'll do better to stay away from teflon pans, and use (at a minimum) several tablespoons of a stable vegetable oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan evenly, with a little more for the potatoes to soak up, because, well, they will anyway). Wesson oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, or other cooking oils that can take temperatures up to 390 degrees Fahrenheit are needed. Olive oil will generally smoke at lower temperatures (375 degrees F) than you need to reliably caramelize potatoes. You need to bring the oil in the pan up to at least 360 degrees Fahrenheit before adding potatoes. And you need to not add so many potatoes at a time that your pan temperature drops well below your frying temperature, as this will just cause the potatoes to soak up more oil, and inhibit the browning process. If you are working with a normal electric range, a cast iron skillet may be your best bet, because of its higher weight and latent heat. Get the oil hot, and keep it hot, and your potatoes will brown, if they have enough sugar.
posted by paulsc at 10:21 AM on April 8, 2006

I definitely have the best results when I use plenty of oil (bacon grease is probably the most delicious)
posted by Good Brain at 10:35 AM on April 8, 2006

stiring potato cubes will not cause them to change their contact surface. What I do is to use a large metal spatula, pick up as much potato as possible and flip them over. Do this many times during cooking and most surfaces will get browned.

If you are feeling really adventurous and you have a pan with the right sidewall curvature you could "saute" them ("saute" means jump). This involves flicking the pan horizontally so the food scoots to the sidewall and the curve makes the food fly up the sidewall and tumble back into the pan.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:59 AM on April 8, 2006

I've been making hashbrowns for a long time. The problem is water. And starch. When you cut fresh potatoes, you'll notice that the knife blade becomes wet and that the potatoes stick together in their cubes (or slices). This is because potatoes are pretty watery and this prevents them from cooking correctly. When you purchase frozen cubes or shredded potatoes, they are dehydrated a bit, which makes them much easier to cook.

If you refuse to purchase potatoes like this (expensive, preservatives, additives, salty, etc.), then you need to do the blanch-and-shock mentioned above by paulsc. This will get rid of a lot of the starch dry out the potatoes so that they'll cook more evenly.

Last tip: Be patient. Potatoes should not be flipped constantly, but only a couple of times. Put in the oil, make the single layer of potatoes, get it sizziling, and then cover the pan and wait. Waiting is hard because you'll think they're burning (I always do at least), but seriously, wait 5 whole minutes before even checking the bottoms. You'll see that they're not black but only a bit brown. Let them keep cooking even more... Then you'll only need to flip them a couple of times. And this keeps them from disentegrating into a mush (because the crust gets hard before you start manhandling them with a spatula).
posted by zpousman at 11:08 AM on April 8, 2006

If you are feeling really adventurous and you have a pan with the right sidewall curvature you could "saute" them ("saute" means jump). This involves flicking the pan horizontally so the food scoots to the sidewall and the curve makes the food fly up the sidewall and tumble back into the pan.
Do not try this if you have a pan with "several tablespoons" of oil, as also mentioned in this thread. Shaking nuclear-hot oil into the air and hoping none lands on your hand/arm is a fool's errand.

The flipping technique is useful for foods when there's little or no extra liquid in the pan. If you wouldn't do it with soup, don't do it with hot oil.
posted by mdeatherage at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2006

I like to use leftover baked potatos to make breakfast potatos. They are already cooked and drier so they brown much more quickly. I usually put them in in one layer, let them cook completely on that side, then flip large portions of them over with the spatula. Any slices displaying white potato instead of the brown crispies gets individually flipped.
I don't think you're talking about hash browns, but if you do enjoy them, wring the raw grated potatos out in handfuls in your tightly squeezed fists. If you have never done this, you're going to be amazed at how much liquid comes out, and how gross it is(slimy with starch, cloudy, and it turns from grey to pink).
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:40 PM on April 8, 2006

Best question of the year.
Just use enough oil in your pan (I use half grapeseed oil, half olive oil) and yes, you have no other option than turn the potatoes chunks around every 3 or 5 minutes.
Enjoy, because I don't eat potatoes anymore.
Only for special events :-)
posted by bru at 7:46 PM on April 8, 2006

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