Thursday, May 13, 2010

Divine Hash Browns

Shea and I love to eat out. Clearly this is no surprise to most of you. We especially, well at least up until we moved out here to Tennessee, loved to go out for breakfast. We love eggs, we love toast, we love coffee and of course... we love breakfast potatoes.

Most breakfast potatoes are good. It's hard to go terribly wrong with potatoes fried in butter and served along side eggs. But they are almost never great. Most seem to fall somewhere in between edible and pretty good. Most...

A few years ago, sitting in a diner across the table from Shea somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I sat staring down at a plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns, probably with a look of child-like glee pasted all over my face, thinking that the bite of potatoes I had just eaten was divine.

I'm pretty sure that on that cold rainy morning, God himself was making hash browns in that greasy spoon of a diner. They were perfection. Every bite was crispy, buttery, salty and potato-ey.
They did not want for anything; not ketchup or hot sauces, not salt or pepper, not even a broken egg yolk pooling into them on the plate.

Before I knew it they were gone, and my eggs and bacon stood untouched. I seriously considered ordering another plate of hash browns but was afraid that the next plate would just disappoint.

I had just eaten perfection... how could you improve on that?

But even more importantly... how could I replicate that at home?

A few months ago I came across an article in the New York Times Magazine about the perfect hash browns. I was reminded of that diner in the U.P. and once again got excited about the possibility of once again tasting "divine" breakfast potatoes.

I decided to make them.

It turns out that they were strikingly similar to the ones we had in the U.P. And although I was slightly disappointed to find out that they had probably not been made by God himself, I was happy to know that mere man could make hash browns like this. A little divine... and definitely good eats.

If you plan on making these, make sure you read the whole recipe and notes first. They aren't hard, but do take some planning ahead.


4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

Note: I have made this a few times and the type of potato really does matter.

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Peel the potatoes and place them in a large pot of cold water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high and cook until you can poke a bamboo skewer through a potato, 40 to 50 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Drain and set aside to cool and dry completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator. (over night seems to be best. That way when you wake up to make breakfast they are ready to go already.)

2. Meanwhile, clarify the butter by melting it in a small saucepan over medium heat. When foam forms, use a spoon to remove and discard it. Cook, skimming, until the butter stops bubbling. Take care not to brown it. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and reserve. You should have about 5 tablespoons.

Note: you could use vegetable oil instead of clarified butter but the flavor is not going to be as good. I actually just clarify a bunch of butter and keep it in a little Tupperware container in the fridge. It will last even longer than unclarified butter and is great to have on hand.

3. Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Grate the potatoes on the large side of a box grater into a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix lightly. Add 3 tablespoons clarified butter to pan, swirl until it begins to melt and add the shredded potatoes. Cook until golden brown and crusted on the bottom, almost (but not quite) burned in parts, about 15 minutes.

Note: Don't be afraid to let it cook. It will be almost burnt but it will also be delicious.

4. Use a wide spatula to flip the potatoes, or quickly invert the pan onto a dinner plate and gently slide them back into the pan. Add remaining butter around the sides of the potatoes and cook the second side until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Cut into wedges or spoon onto plates. Serve with eggs, bacon or whatever.