HASH BROWNS THE ALPINE WAY.
Hash browns is a simple dish in which potatoes are shredded, diced or crushed and then griddled or fried. Certainly, they’re a staple on American breakfast menus.
To my astonishment, there are a myriad of ways to prepare them. I realized that when I looked hash brown recipes up online. Indeed, an endless number of cooks claim their preparation to be the best. While the obvious potatoes are a must, how those spuds are cut varies widely. Cooks shred either raw or cooked potatoes on a box grater, others swear on cutting them into strips, a.k.a., julienne with a knife. Others simply crush baked potatoes and give them shape by pressing them into cool-looking molds. I came across raw hash brown preparations that instruct the cook to rinse off the starch from the shredded potatoes before they’re cooked in a skillet. In my experience it made a rather light hash brown that fell apart easily.
Let’s hash brown
Indeed, I have had my share of trying different methods for hash browns. Currently, my vote goes to the following preparation. I bake russet potatoes on a bed of salt, then chill and peel them. Later, I shred the potatoes on the largest hole of my box grater and season them with salt, pepper and a small amount of garlic powder. I used to shy away from using garlic powder versus fresh chopped garlic, but in case of hash browns I like to use it since it distributes perfectly in the recipe.
When it is time to do the cooking I prefer to use a cast iron skillet. I leave on the stove for 2 minutes first so I can be sure it’s really hot and then I add vegetable oil and the potatoes. I’m looking for a crunchy-fried outside and a pillowy steaming hot interior.
Making hash browns in this way puts me right back to my apprentice years, high up in the Austrian Alps where we young cooks were given the task of making rösti.
Many Swiss people consider rösti to be a national dish. Indeed, its preparation is similar to hash browns. Rather than considering it to be a breakfast dish, it is often eaten in Central Europe as a vegetarian main course, usually served with pureed spinach and a fried egg. Making rösti still evokes the mental imprint of me adding nut-sized pieces of butter into the skillet back in the day. For sure, it made for a delectable potato dish. Often, people add a generous grating of alpine cheese, such as Appenzeller, just before serving. It added cheesy nuttiness and a heart-warming aroma.
For my part, I love a serving of golden-browned, crispy potatoes with that steaming inside. I recommend cooking a rösti up for your next steak dinner instead of French fries.
Rösti – Swiss-style hash browns
(recipe yields four servings)
1 pound russet or Idaho potatoes
¼ cup Kosher salt (used for baking)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 clove finely chopped garlic can be substituted
8 gratings of black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
- Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread salt evenly over a cookie-sheet pan. Arrange potatoes over the salt and bake in the hot oven for 45 minutes. The potatoes should be undercooked—you’re looking for a firm center.
- Put potatoes on the kitchen counter to cool off. After 30 minutes, peel the potatoes and chill in the refrigerator.
- After 2 hours, grate potatoes on the largest hole of a box grater.
- In a bowl, gently toss potatoes with the sea salt, garlic and black pepper.
- Heat a 10-inch cast iron pan for 2 minutes on the highest heat setting.
- Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and carefully distribute the potatoes over the skillet.
- Cook potatoes for 2 minutes, then continue to cook on medium heat. With a spatula, shape the potato into an even circle by pressing the edges gently to the middle. Continue to cook the potato for 15 minutes longer.
- With the spatula, carefully release the potato cake from the skillet by gently scraping it off the bottom of the pan.
- Slide the potato cake onto a plate. Cover potato cake with a second plate and flip them by pressing the two plates together. Slide the potato cake, cooked-side facing up, into the hot skillet and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Continue to cook potato cake on medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Add butter around the edges of the potato cake, cook for 2 more minutes, then slide the potato cake onto a plate.
- Add a sprinkle of salt just before serving.