Stuffed Hashbrowns

October 4, 2006 at 6:21 am (A (4 stars, love), Alma's faves, breakfast, Cruciferous rich, Mom’s recipes, Monthly menu plan, Quick weeknight recipe, Vegetable dishes)


When I was a kid I always asked my mom to make me “hashbrowns.” She’d tell me to grate a potato, and then she’d make either a simple paper-thin pancake of grated, lightly fried potatoes, or more often a hashbrown “omelet” filled with steamed vegetables and folded in half. I could never get enough, and neither could any of my siblings. Stuffed hashbrowns make a delicious, nutritious, and filling breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We eat them most often for Sunday brunch.

When my mom made hashbrowns, it always looked so simple. She would lift the hashbrown out of the pan with her spatula and flip it in one gold brown crisped circular disk of potato. But when I started trying to make them myself, I discovered that it’s harder than it looks. My hashbrowns always fell apart! I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I’m still not nearly as good at it as my Mom is. Someday I will discover her secrets.

Ingredients for one hashbrown:

  • 1.5 tsp. olive oil.
  • 1 medium unpeeled high-starch potato, washed, grated coarse, and squeezed dry in a tea towel (about 6.5 to 9 ounces of raw potato, should be just over 1? cup of tightly packed grated potato, see note below)
  • 1/8 tsp. fine (table) salt (see note below)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup lightly steamed, lightly salted vegetables of your choice. I prefer broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms.
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced or 1/2 ounce grated cheese or 5 kalamata olives, sliced (see note below)
  • ketchup (optional, see note below)

Instructions:

  1. Wash and chop the veggies. If using cruciferous vegetables, let them sit for 20 minutes after chopping them. Set a steaming basket over boiling water, and start the veggies cooking. Steam them until they are tender-crisp. (For broccoli this takes around 5 minutes depending on how high the heat is.)
  2. Make sure your potatoes are dry, then grate them on the large hole of a box grater. (You can also use a food processor, but I find it works best to grate them by hand.) If you feel like it, wring the grated potato out in a thin dish towel, extracting as much moisture as possible. (See note below.)
  3. Heat a large, heavy skillet on high. When the pan is hot, add the oil, then scatter the grated potatoes evenly over the entire bottom of the pan. The potatoes should cover the pan uniformly, but not completely.  There should be some small spaces where you can still see the bottom of the pan. Use a spatula to firmly press the potatoes into the pan. (This pressing step is important. Don’t skip it!) Sprinkle on the salt and pepper.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or until browned and crisp. Jiggle your pan to see if your hashbrown is loose. If it’s only stuck in a few places use a spatula to free it. If it’s really stuck, just wait longer. When it moves freely, flip the hashbrown (see note below). Place the cheese (if using) and steamed vegetables over the potatoes.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  5. When the bottom of the hashbrown begins to brown, fold it in half like an omelet and serve immediately.

Serves 1.

My Notes

This dish is very fast and easy to make, but requires some technique. It takes a bit of experimentation to get the right temperature and timing. Every stove and pan and potato are different, and it’s a fine line between undercooked potatoes and mushy, overcooked ones. You’ll just have to experiment a bit.

What’s the best skillet to use?

I’m still not sure what the best kind of skillet is. My Mom always uses her 9-inch cast iron pan. I have also tried my 12-inch stainless skillet and a 10.5-inch nonstick skillet. I’m still undecided about which works best.

Which kind of potato should you use?

Avoid very low starch (waxy) potatoes like Red Bliss. (In German these are called festkochend). Cook’s Illustrated says

All-purpose potatoes worked well enough, and Yukon Golds, another medium-starch potato, were still better, with their buttery color and flavor. Best of all, however, were high-starch russet (baking) potatoes. They adhered well, browned beautifully, and had the most pronounced potato flavor. Raw grated potatoes held together while cooking and had a more textured interior as well as more potato flavor. We also liked the way the raw shreds of potato formed an attractive, deeply browned crust.

Do you need to wring out your potatoes?

Wringing your potatoes out in a tea towel doesn’t seem to be essential—my mother never does this.  But Cook’s Illustrated recommends it, and I find that drier potatoes are easier to work with.  Even if you don’t wring your potatoes dry in a towel, make sure you at least dry your potatoes off before grating them. Watery potatoes tend not to fry up as nicely. If you don’t wring out your potatoes, you will probably need to use a lower heat level and cook your potatoes for longer, in order for all the moisture to evaporate.

What’s the best way to flip the hashbrown?

For flipping the potatoes you can use a spatula, but when I first tried this I found it difficult to flip the hashbrown and keep it in one piece.  If you’re using a nonstick skillet, you can try flipping the “pancake” in one fluid motion using a flip of the wrist. In theory this would work with a stainless skillet as well, but I’ve never managed it. These days I use a metal spatula to loosen any stuck bits, making sure that when I shake the pan the hashbrown moves freely. Then I either flip it with a spatula or put a plate over my skillet and just invert the whole skillet onto the plate.

How big of a potato do I need for a single hashbrown, and how much fat do I need to grease the pan?

Cook’s Illustrated uses 1 pound potato and 1 Tbs. butter per person. They use 1/2 the butter at the beginning. They have you invert the potatoes onto a plate, and add the second half of the butter before return the potatoes to a pan.

I don’t think I’ve ever used a whole pound of potato for one hashbrown. That seems like way too much! Their hashbrowns must be thicker than mine. I think when I use a 9.5 inch cast iron pan than 6.5 ounces of potato is enough. With a 12-inch skillet you probably need more like 6.5 ounces of squeezed out grated potato, so maybe a 9 or 10 ounce potato?

I grease my pan with 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, and I don’t find that I need to grease it again when I flip the hashbrown over, but it probably depends on the pan and the heat level. Make sure your oil is hot when you add the potatoes, and if the potatoes are sticking when you try to flip it then most likely you just need to give it more time. As the potatoes crisp up they release from the pan. If you overcrowd your skillet the potatoes have too much moisture and they don’t dry out effectively, and your hashbrown falls apart. When you sprinkle your grated potato into the pan you want to make sure there are still a few empty spaces where you can still see the skillet.

How much salt do I need?

With cheese, I find that 1/8 tsp. table salt results in a quite salty hashbrown. I don’t salt my veggies though, and it balances out. If you don’t love salt, you will probably find these too salty. That said, if you omit the cheese, you may need more salt.

How much cheese do I need?

My Mom is vegan and never uses cheese in her hashbrown. Instead, she often spreads them with mashed avocado. If you use cheese, you don’t need all that much. If you use a sharp cheddar or other flavorful cheese then I find that about 1/2 ounce gives the “omelet” good flavor and a very rich mouthfeel.  Other cheeses to try are feta, gruyere and raclette.

Ketchup or no ketchup?

Sometimes I eat my hashbrowns with a little ketchup. Alma (at age 5) eats hers with a LOT of ketchup. She says ketchup is nonnegotiable.

Rating: A-

Note: since I’m already getting the steamer out I usually steam a couple extra cups of veggies and eat them on the side after I’m done with my hashbrown. Or if I’m not hungry I save them in the fridge and throw them into some other meal.

Update Dec 4, 2009: 

I finally, after many years of failed attempts, flipped a hashbrown without breaking it into pieces. I did not use my mother’s technique, which involves a metal spatula.  Instead, I did it by tossing the “pancake” into the air with a flip of the wrist.  In addition to spurning the spatula, I used mehlig German potatoes (which seemed to me to be similar to yukon gold), and I wrung the grated potatoes in a dish towel to release some of the extra liquid.  I cooked the hashbrowns in my 12-inch nonstick skillet.  I used 1.5 tsp. oil and about 6 to 6.5 ounces of potato per hashbrown.  There was still empty space showing between the grated potato pieces after I scattered them in the pan.  I think that’s key.

We stuffed the hashbrowns with steamed broccoli and gruyere cheese.  They were delicious, and very filling.

2 Comments

  1. What I’ve been eating lately « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] some leftover avocados I made stuffed hashbrowns, another of Derek’s favorites, and one of my mom’s recipes from my childhood.  In […]

  2. Healthy vegetarian breakfast ideas | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] Stuffed hashbrowns with steamed veggies, avocado, and/or cheese. This was one of my favorite breakfasts when I was a kid. Everyone loves it, but it’s a lot of work and doesn’t scale well. We only make it about once every six weeks as a Sunday brunch. […]

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