Thursday, May 20, 2010

Perfect Hashbrowns Every Time

So what do hashbrown potatoes have to do with Mexico? Not a darned thing, but sometimes when living in Mexico you crave an old familiar comfort food from the Old Country and since it's hard to find properly cooked hashbrowns in Puerto Penasco (or in The States, for that matter) I have to make them myself.

Not that I really mind. Sure, it's a bit of work but the finished product really hits the spot and I'm picky about my hashbrowns. They should be crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, never mushy, never gooey. If done right, and no one's looking, you can actually pick these up with your fingers and eat them out of hand once they've cooled off a bit. (Of course, I've never done that, no, not me...)

There's a whole controversy going on about the fine line between hashbrowns and a potato pancake. I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, these are hashbrowns, fixed just the way I like 'em.

The keys to making this dish properly are:
  • Using the right kind of potato (Russets are best)
  • Getting the moisture out before you cook them (this is the most critical factor!)
  • Using the right skillet (nothing beats cast iron)
  • Using the right heat
  • Using the right amount of oil/butter
  • Cooking them for the right amount of time (flip them only once!)
And, of course, flavoring. I just use salt and pepper most of the time, and never add extras like onion or peppers. Adding additional ingredients like that is for a different kind of hashbrowns, not these!

Serves 2

  • 1 LARGE Russet potato, peeled and shredded
  • 3 Tbsp. canola or olive oil (or lard, or a combination of oil and butter)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potato and shred it using the big holes in a box grater. Place the shredded potatoes in a colander and rinse in cold running water until the water runs clear. (This removes the starch that can make hashbrowns gummy).

To remove moisture, you have a couple of choices: 1) Put them in a potato ricer and press down hard. The potatoes won't go through, but it acts like a press to remove the excess moisture. 2) Put the potatoes on a clean kitchen towel, wrap them up and form a tourniquet to force the moisture out. Get as much out as you possibly can. (Putting them on layers of paper towels and pressing pressing pressing is a third alternative, but it never works as well as the other two ways.)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (9-inch cast iron would be about right) on medium high heat. Here I have to say that lard works really well, as it has a high smoking point and adds flavor. (Lard has an evil reputation, but it's not as bad for you as you think.) Additionally, half butter and half canola oil also works well, as the butter adds flavor without burning when it's combined with the oil.

When the oil in the pan is shimmering, but not smoking, add the grated potatoes, spreading them out along the bottom of the pan as thinly as you can. They should be evenly distributed, no more than a half inch thick. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the potatoes to taste (OK, you can use some garlic and/or onion powder too if you want). Keep a close eye on it; after a few minutes, lift up one edge of the potatoes and see how done they are. When they have fried to a rich golden brown they are ready to flip. Use a large spatula to flip the potatoes over all at once, if possible, as if they were a big pancake. Continue to cook until they are golden brown on the bottom.

Slide the crispy potatoes from the pan onto a plate, in one piece if possible. Cut them in half with a sharp knife and serve to yourself and your breakfast partner with eggs-the-way-you-like-them, machaca, toast and a side of your favorite salsa.

And that's it!

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)


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