Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My quest for perfect hash browns

I know most of you just buy the frozen hash browns and cook 'em up and call it good. But I feel a lot of push-back on convenience foods. They are often over processed. I don't trust the source of where the processed foods come from, and I don't like any additives or preservatives that they often put in foods to make them last longer in the market on the shelves.

I like to buy my foods from the farmer's markets and try to get foods locally when I can. I like to cook fresh foods from scratch so I know what and where the ingredients come from and that there are no hidden ingredients that I did not put in.

For all of you cooks who have ever made hash browns from scratch and ended up with less than desired results, I used to flunk at hash browns. But I am happy to report that I have solved the home-made hash brown riddle.

In the past, I have painstakingly sliced potatoes by hand getting uneven slices. I have hand grated them to get more evenly sized hashbrowns. I used a food processor to grate them in a flash. I have sliced my potatoes with the hash brown slicing blade of my expensive mandoline that I bought at an upscale kitchen gadget store at the mall.

Once I had the perfect sliced taters, I would invariably mess them up in the grease as they stuck to my perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. I would mutter to myself as I would try to flip the hash browns but always losing some to bottom of the pan which had welded themselves in place. I would have to use a chisel and hammer to get them off the bottom or boil them off while cleaning.

What was I doing wrong?

The insides of the potatoes were a gluey texture inside and not very palatable. The outsides were crisp and done, but the insides were not. Hmmm? Maybe the oil was not hot enough. I upped the heat. They burned.

I tried using different types of spuds; red, russet, golden... I got mixed results. The nests of hash browns would still suffer from uneven browning ranging from very light to blackened round the edges. Sometimes the potatoes would weld themselves to the spatula.

I tried rinsing off the excess potato starch by giving them a swish in a bath of ice cold water and toweling them off until dry with an entire roll of paper towels.

I tried using different oils; vegetable, corn, canola, and against my better judgement, artery clogging vegetable shortening. I use about 3/4" of oil in my skillet. Then it hit me, restaurants use deep fryers with baskets.

The potatoes at the restaurants don't have a chance to stick to the bottom because they fry so quickly and evenly in the deep oil. Well this is my problem, I don't have a deep fryer. I will think about getting one, but in the mean time, I still have to make due with the skillet that I have.

So I cut up my simple red potatoes (skins on) with my trusty mandoline for perfect hash brown slices onto a doubled up sheet of paper toweling, I took another doubled up paper towel and blotted the potatoes thoroughly to get rid of excess moisture.

I heated 3/4" of canola oil in my skillet. I put in the potatoes, BUT instead of letting them sit there to cook on the one side before flipping them, I kept them moving. I used my wooden spatula to keep them from touching the bottom of the skillet for any length of time. I kept stirring them in the oil as if they were in a deep fryer, and they cooked very evenly. Plumes of steam came off the oil getting rid of the unwanted moisture in the potatoes that would turn them gloppy. The outsides crisped perfectly and I finally had achieved the perfect hash brown.

I gathered them up quickly with my largest asian frying-strainer spoon and placed them on paper toweling to drain excess oil. My final touch was to sprinkle them with grated sea salt and pepper, and just a touch of dried onion powder.

Maybe I won't have to purchase an expensive deep fryer after all.

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