Thursday, September 13, 2012

Megan's Big Breakfast Post Part Un: Perfect Hash Browns

I LOVE summer and I have been drooling over all the amazing ingredients that have been featured here each month. I feel bad for my lack of participation, but here's my excuse: 

Update on the life of a girl working on a private yacht: We are currently in Quebec City waiting out Hurricane Leslie. Next on our itinerary will be working our way back through the St. Lawrence seaway on our way to Maine. In case you don't know how living on a yacht works, I have a private chef. Oh wait?  Have I told you that at least 100 times? Okay, there is a chef on board specifically for the guests but I have to eat too, so I get the bonus of sampling all the delicious food. Lucky for me, Chef Michelle is also my roommate, travel buddy, and when we get a chance, drinking buddy. She's an incredible cook, and takes care of us daily with a wide variety of food. Curry is one of her latest specialties that I'm addicted to. Since I no longer get to cook and rarely have the time, I have been dying to get in the galley. I obviously love food and cooking but I also quickly adapted to getting my meals made for me. Spoiled - I know. I promised Michelle I would make her some of my specialties and it turns out I excel in breakfast dishes.
Michelle & Megan. Not only is she pretty, but she can cook too!
 Traveling this summer has brought some unexpected culinary adventures. For example, when we were in Sheboygan, Wisconsin we had the  most amazing meal I have EVER had at a little place called Il Ritrovo .   Being in the service industry, I find that service really sets the stage for an amazing meal.   We met a wonderful bartender who recommended a delicious Italian wine.  The owner sends his staff to Italy.  We started with  Fonduta Al Forno which was wood-fired terracota filled with melted mozzeralla, smoked mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, topped with slices of prosciutto di Parma.   This was followed by the best wood-fired pizza EVER.  I have also had some of the worst meals I've ever had.  It gets a little frustrating when you pull up somewhere and are so ready for an amazing meal and fantastic service and it completely disappoints. The handful of times we have gone out for breakfast have been mediocre- okay I take that back they have been bad.  I have worked in restaurants for over 15 years now (gulp) and even I have been sending food back (which I thought I'd never do)!

When I go out to breakfast, this is typically how it goes:

Me:  "Can I please have the hash browns extra crispy?"

Whoever I am dining with - usually the whole table:  "Me too please!"

Waiter:  "Of course!"

How often have I ever gotten nice crispy golden hashbrowns?  I am sure a handful of times but I can only remember once at this little gem in Portland, Oregon: Pine State Biscuits.  Instead, what typically happens, is I get a pile of mushy potatoes with a couple of crispy pieces.  This is unacceptable!  I started cooking breakfast in beautiful Bridgeport, CA at Hunewill Guest Ranch many years ago. I continued this last year as a line cook in Dubois, Wyoming at Crooked Creek Guest Ranch.  I tell you this only to confirm that I have lots of breakfast cooking experience and it is possible to make crispy hash browns for the masses! It is so easy. Here's how it goes:

I often use frozen shredded hash browns. These are easy and organic versions are available too.  If you want fresh, you have to be careful. Potatoes retain a lot of water. One of my favorite food memories is my Aunt Donna shredding leftover dinner potatoes from the garden for hash browns in the morning.  This turns out to be the perfect way to do it and they are so amazing.  If you have the oven on the night before, throw a few potatoes in to cook.  They just need a good start.  Scrub them and throw them right in but no need to wrap them in tinfoil or anything.  Leave them uncovered for the night and shred in the morning.

Heat up your pan and put in a good amount of oil.  I put in a generous amount - about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of vegetable oil.  You aren't eating hash browns to be healthy and for them to get nice and crispy you have to do it. Get over it. Get the oil really nice and hot. This is very important. Once the oil is really hot, put in a thin, even layer of hash browns, fresh or frozen.
Raw, frozen spuds
Here is the  MOST important step of perfect hash browns.  Are you listening?  Okay, here it goes.  DO NOT TOUCH THEM!!!!!!  I am serious. The quickest way to ruin your hash browns is to touch them.  I know as home cooks, chefs, and newbies we all have the urge to move things around in a hot pan.  I know this urge - resist it. You can put the heat on Medium to Medium Hot. If you need to peek to see how they are cooking (so they don't burn), just lift up the corner. This step will ensure a perfect crispy crust. When they are as brown you desire, you should be able to flip the whole amount over in the pan in one or two pieces.
You get extra points if you can flip them all at once!
This is why it is important to use a good amount of oil.  They may seem oily at first but the potatoes will absorb it.  It will also move to the bottom and coat the other side.  Make sure and use a lot of sea salt and pepper. I often like to add fresh, finely chopped Rosemary to them (this counts as my rosemary post!). Get the other side nice and crispy and voila, you have perfect potatoes!  You will never be disappointed again. If you have to keep them warm, put them uncovered in the oven. If you cover, they will steam and you will lose the crispiness.
As I write this, it gets me all worked up. I am obviously passionate about crispy hash browns as seen by the essay I just wrote about them.  I also think EVERYONE loves crispy potatoes as you can see by my conversation above. I think as consumers in this economy we need to demand better quality for our breakfasts when we actually go out to eat.  I go out to eat significantly less than before the recession and I am sure many of you are the same.  That is why eating out should be truly a treat and not a chance to eat crap potatoes and be dissapointed.  I think we should start a movement.  I am calling it "People Against Mushy Potatoes" or PAMP.  Maybe I should do stickers?  Facebook page? We can always slap the stickers on the bill when we get this offensive problem. What do you think? Who is with me?


  1. I hate mushy hashbrowns and I love this post!

  2. I’m guilty. I stir my hash browns while I cook them and they never turn out quite as delicious as they should! Next time I’m going to follow your step by step instructions – This girl is not afraid of using gallons of oil!
    And I’m joining PAMP. I want a sticker and a maternity shirt “We’re both members of PAMP” because baby and I like our browns extra crispy and smothered in ketchup!

  3. OMG I love PAMP! This is brilliant. And I actually have been needing a tutorial on how to make hashbrowns. I fear I've bee a victim of touching them. Oops! I'm going to try this over the weekend!