My Grandmother (known as “Gram” on this blog from now on) makes these hash browns that are just.. amazingly good. They are light and crispy and were a total freaking mystery to me until about 2 years ago. There is a secret to hash browns. It’s not just the potatoes, salt, oil.. it’s the moisture.
I did not ever actually watch my Gram make hash browns. As I think back about the times I stayed at her house, it seems I never actually saw my Gram waking up. She is an early riser (as am I as an adult, for the most part). She wakes between 4 and 5 every morning, as she has done for the past 60+ years. As a child, when I would stay at her house, I was almost always awakened by the scent of food cooking..bacon, muffins, eggs, doughnuts, fritters, baked apples and the like. I would stumble, along with the rest of the kids, into the kitchen, plop down at the table as close to the heating stove as I could get, and wait until breakfast was actually ready. You know it’s never actually ready when you first are awakened by the scent.. you always have to wait.
Gram would set the hash browns, still in the cast iron skillet she cooked them in, right on the table. If you were unlucky, and didn’t get up when you first smelled food cooking, you were out of luck. Her hash browns didn’t last 2 minutes in the pan.
After I moved away, and out of Nebraska, my trips to my Grams house were very infrequent. 1 visit every year at first, then every few years, and then, as now, even less that that. So I experimented with making hash browns. She gave me step by step instructions.. how many potatoes, how much salt, oil, the kind of pan, how much heat, and they never once came out like hers. Mine were greasy, mushy, and heavy. No matter what I did, they were always that way.
A few years ago, Gram came out to visit. And one morning, as I was finishing making tea, she started to shred some potatoes for breakfast. I stood watching her, and when she spread the potatoes out on a tea-towel, and then pressed the moisture out, my jaw fell open. Ahhhaaaaa! Gram had told me what to use, how much to use, what pan to use, what oil to use, the kind of salt she used, but she had never, ever mentioned that the potatoes should be pressed to reduce the moisture. When I asked her about it, she said she never thought about it. It was just something you do when making shredded potatoes.
I’ve read since then a few articles here and there that suggest the same thing — something to press the moisture out of the potatoes. A potato ricer, leaving them overnight uncovered in a refrigerator, or putting them in the oven for a few minutes.
I just do what Gram did — a towel-paper-towel-shredded potato-paper-towel-towel sandwich. Place a thick kitchen towel on your counter top, place a thick layer of paper towel on top, add the shredded potatoes, another thick layer of paper towels, and another towel. Roll with a pastry roller, or press down hard. You just need to do this a couple of times, and it’s all good to go.
Now.. onto the incredibly easy recipe…
Simple Hash Browns
2 tablespoons oil
2 baking potatoes, shredded
1/2 small onion, diced fine
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
In a heavy medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until softened and caramelized. Remove onions from skillet. Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and heat. Add shredded potatoes in an even layer in the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook until the potatoes begin to brown on the bottom, 6 to 7 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking. Add onions back to skillet, press into a pancake. Season with salt and pepper
Using a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they are caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan, and mix together with the shredded potatoes. Heat the remaining oil, and then add the potatoes to the skillet, in an even layer – -no more than 1/2 an inch. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the potatoes begin to brown on the bottom — about 7-8 minutes. Carefully flip over, or cut in half and flip one part at time over.
Season again with salt and pepper and allow to finish cooking — until golden brown on the bottom, another 7-8 minutes.
You do not have to peel the potatoes.
Add green or red peppers as a variation.