~ Happy at Last: Crispy Deep-Fried Hashed Browns ~
Has anyone ever met a plate of hashed browns they didn't like? Quite frankly, I've never met anyone, when faced with a plate of these crisply-fried, golden-brown potato morsels, who is ambivalent about them. In fact, my encounters with hash browns in homes and eateries reveal: One can never make enough. Folks eat them first and they eat them all. Therein lies the problem for home cooks. How to make a decent-sized quantity of these potatoes, per person, in a timely manner without compromising their signature restaurant-quality crispy texture.
Hashed brown potatoes are personal. They mean different things to different people. It revolves around how the potatoes are prepped: shredded, cubed, julienned or riced. I prefer the prettier--to-look-at fork-friendly cubes to the semi-stuck together others. Perhaps that's because I prefer the task of cubing potatoes to the others. Perhaps it's because when my mother made potato pancakes, she shredded the potatoes, when she made French fries she julienned them, when she made home fries, the potatoes were cut into thin, round slices, and, when she riced potatoes, that meant potato cakes were showing up on the dinner table. Last but not least, when mom made hashed browns or potatoes for corned beef hash, she cubed the potatoes. That was that. I'm guilty as charged: a culinary creature of habit who does it the way I was taught.
Restaurants with large flat top griddles have a big advantage over the home cook in that the large flat surface gives the potatoes all the room they need to spread out in a single layer, which allows the moisture to evaporate from them very quickly. This, plus the minimal amount of butter and/or oil needed on this surface, renders them crispy on the outside with a fluffy, creamy inside. I'm not going to lie -- this type of perfection is hard to duplicate in a skillet in the time kitchen.
My decision to move my cubed potatoes for hashed browns from the skillet to the deep-fryer was an easy one. I had guests coming for a relaxing Sunday brunch -- three couples that had traveled to Happy Valley the previous day for a Penn State football game. My game plan was to serve made-to-order omelettes, sausage links and bacon strips, and, hashed brown potatoes. The egg mixture for the omelettes was whisked together, my omelette filling options were ready, and, the sausage links and bacon strips were staying warm in the oven. I was cubing my potatoes for the hashed browns, when my husband Joe walked into the kitchen.
"Why don't I just deep-fry those for you and make twice as many in half the time?" ~ Joe
My husband deep-fries a lot of things for me and he is very good at it. We refer to ourselves as "fearless fryers". Truth be told, I use my deep-fryer more than I use my crock pot. In the case of too many appetizers and snacks to mention, if they're not deep-fried, the end result is compromised. That said, I long ago gave up deep-frying in a pot of oil with a candy thermometer clipped to it on the stovetop. The relatively inexpensive investment in a countertop deep-fryer was a wise one. It controls the temperature, and, there's no smell, stress or mess either.
"Will deep-fried hashed browns still be hashed browns? Oh heck, give it a try." ~ Mel
Over the years I'd read every word the experts had to say about making hashed brown potatoes. I learned a lot from giving many of their tips a try. I made hashed browns with gold, red and Russet potatoes. Sometimes I peeled the potatoes, sometimes I didn't. I soaked potatoes in cold water, squeezed excess water out of potatoes, and, pre-cooked potatoes via par-boiling and microwaving. I dabbled in using bacon fat, duck fat, clarified butter, butter and/or extra-virgin olive oil with an occasional splash of truffle oil. Sometimes I added onions or caramelized onions. All versions were good, some were better than others -- none were a disappointment.
I rarely experiment on my guests, but, the end result was a great success.
The end result was a success. In the time it took me to make two omelettes in two pans, about 5-6 minutes each, two servings of potatoes cooked to perfection in 12 minutes. I savored the freedom of not having to babysit a third skillet. Instead, my potatoes swam happily in the oil and emerged evenly browned, crispy and golden on the outside and creamy on the inside. Because they were not double-fried (like classic French fries), they really were the texture of hashed browns. I did indeed make twice as many in half the time, and, they were fresh out of the fryer just as my omelettes were coming off the stovetop. My guests ate them all without a question.
To soak or not to soak: On that particular morning, the potatoes did soak in a bowl full of cold water for 15-20 minutes, as I wanted them prepped before my guests arrived, but, even that is not necessary. On any given day for just Joe and I, I simply cube and fry without any soak at all.
~ Step 2. Preheat corn or peanut oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375°. Add 1 pound of cubed potatoes to the fryer basket. Close the lid, set the timer and fry for 12-14 minutes, until gloriously golden to your liking. The timing will vary as per your deep-fryer and the type of potatoes you choose to use. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle IMMEDIATELY with freshly-ground sea salt.
Two half pound servings of hashed browns comin' right up!
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer; paper towels
Cook's Note: Making authentic French fries is an art. To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~. Enter the search words "French fries" or click into Categories 2, 4, 15, 20 or 21.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)