I am drowning in data. I am trying to wrap up a huge project at work, a study that has been going on for over a year and has produced reams and reams and reams of data (much of which came from yours truly); I’m now in the process of distilling it all down into some sort of meaningful conclusion. And while this is the most fun part: understanding how all the pieces come together into one overall picture of drug behavior; it is also exhausting. My eyes cross from peering at my computer screen, my spine creaks from hunching over data tables, my wrists ache from tap-tap-tapping away. As my deadline approaches and the data swirl around in my head, I find I need to take frequent breaks, both to clear my mind and to unkink my spine: a trip to the mailbox for a breath of fresh air, a quick batch of granola to distract my brain, a crispy skillet of hash browns because: even science geeks need to eat.
The key to a crispy hash brown, outside of deep-frying, is to get as much moisture out of the potatoes as possible, then spread them thin in a large skillet and add enough fat to promote browning. That’s it: pretty simple, really. But it’s amazing how many sad, limp, soggy, or mushy hash browns the world inflicts upon the innocent consumer; so much so, that it’s always a pleasant surprise when someone gets it right. So, surprise someone this weekend: fry up a batch of deliciously spicy, crispy golden hash browns. And let me know how it goes: I’ll need another break in an hour or two!
- 1 lb potatoes, scrubbed and any eyes or tough bits of skin peeled away
- fine-grained salt
- 1 – 2 tbsp lard, bacon grease or vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp ground chipotle pepper
- Grate one potato at a time, layering grated potato shallowly in a colander, followed by a generous sprinkling of salt. You should end up with 3 or 4 layers of grated potato & salt. Press a clean kitchen towel over the top layer, squishing the grated potato together so that all potato touches some salt. Allow to rest while the salt draws out moisture from the potatoes, about 15 – 30 minutes.
- Press down on the potatoes one more time to release liquid. Scrape the grated potato into a clean, dry kitchen towel; working over the sink, twist the potatoes in the towel (wrapping the potato up like a piece of candy), twisting either end of the towel tightly to force out as much liquid as possible. It helps to work with a friend here; really force out as much water as possible!
- In a large skillet, heat the grease or oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add potatoes, breaking up clumps then pressing down evenly into the pan. Sprinkle chipotle powder evenly over the top of the potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and fry potatoes, checking at the edge now and then for browning, until crisp and nicely browned on the underside, about 10 minutes. Flip the hash brown, either by breaking into 3 or 4 pieces and flipping individually, or by inverting onto a clean plate and sliding back into the pan. Fry the other side until crisp and brown, about 8 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve with homemade ketchup.
Serves 2 – 4.
- The key to a crisp hash brown is to eliminate as much water as possible from the potatoes: there are many ways to do this, such as roasting first, drying grated potatoes in a low oven, pressing them in a potato ricer, etc. Use your favorite method then proceed as above.
- Obviously, you don’t have to add chipotle powder to these, but it does make for a nice, subtle kick. Add anything you like, simply avoid adding any wet ingredients (sriracha, Tabasco, salsa, etc.) as the potatoes will steam rather than brown. Smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin and ginger all seem like good candidates.
- I like to include some peel in my hash browns: it gives them a little extra texture and color, not to mention additional health benefits. However, feel free to peel them fully if you prefer.
Best eaten fresh. Save any leftovers to add to a quick & easy breakfast frittata.