Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stick O' Butter Sundays

Butter: the new diet food!
 Let's start with the obvious. This is not a healthy recipe. Unless, of course, you count butter as a health food. It is, however, a recipe for the Holy Grail of hashbrowns.

I'm a sucker for restaurant hash-browns – perfectly browned, with each piece of potato distinctly separated from the next. For years, I thought such perfection would always elude me at home. The result of my best efforts at hash-browner-y was gooey, gray, and inconsistently browned. The hash-browns tasted good, especially with hot sauce and ketchup, but fell far short of the utopic dish found at fine dining establishments such as Mr. Bill's and IHOP.

Then, via the magic of Cook's Illustrated, I found them – the perfect hash-browns. Luckily for my waistline, they are fairly time consuming. Unfortunately for said waistline, they are worth it...and since Randy likes them even more than I do, they're hard to pass up on a weekend.

Irresistible fluffy, buttery, perfect hash-browns
Start by peeling four or five medium potatoes. I know most of the nutrition in a potato resides in the skin, but let's face it – health's not a prime consideration when hash-browns are involved. Peeling seems like an extra step, but it helps the texture a lot – when the potatoes cook, the skins separate and create little pockets of dissonance in an otherwise harmonious plate. I resisted peeling for a long time, because the last thing I want in the morning is a breakfast that requires more work than necessary, but after a few trials (and repeated badgering by Randy) I saw the light.

Once you have your potatoes peeled, it's time to grate them. Any grater will work, but I have found that a food processor – or in my case, the grating attachment for my KitchenAid – provides a bit better texture. I don't know why this is – the speed the potatoes are grated at, the relative sharpness of the grating blade (my box grater is at least 15 years old), or pure imagination. Whatever it is, I believe it's better, and since using the KitchenAid is both faster and comes with a 100% less chance of skinning my knuckles, I'm sticking with it.

I used to consider the resulting pile of grated potatoes ready for the pan...and that's why I never got good hash-browns. Apparently, what makes the potatoes glump together is the extra starch on the shreds, mixed with too much moisture. That means there are two more steps to take before the taters can hit the pan.

NOW they're ready for the pan
First, rinse the shreds until the water runs clear. Then, dump the potatoes into a dish towel and wring
as much water out as humanly possible. Do not skimp on this step. The more water you remove here, the better the final product will be. If needed, call in reinforcements when your arms get tired. You'll know you're there when the shreds feel almost dry to the touch and don't cling to each other.

Now grab a stick of butter, take a deep breath and channel your inner Paula Deen. Heat a large saute pan over medium/medium-high heat (6.5 is the magic spot on my dial). Add half a stick of butter to the pan. Yep. Four tablespoons. I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why you only used half. Don't worry – more will come later.

Let the butter melt and brown slightly, then add the potatoes, spreading them out into an even layer. IF you like to season your hash-browns in the pan, salt and pepper them now; I hardly ever remember that part. Let them cook for three minutes, then cover the pan and cook for an additional six minutes.

Now comes the fun part – flipping them. Grab a plate and place it face-down on top of the potatoes. Holding the plate in place with one hand, turn the pan upside down, and lift it. It will come away revealing a beautifully browned plate of wonderfulness. Sadly, they're not done yet.
Step one: Plop down a plate

Step Two: Flip it - don't let go of the plate!

Step Three: Remove pan.

Remember that remaining half stick of butter? Now's when it comes into play. Add two tablespoons of butter* into the pan and let it brown up. Then slide the potatoes off the plate into the pan. Use a spatula to tuck any stray pieces down around the edges, and let cook for another six minutes.
More butter! Yay!

Then sit back and enjoy. When you're done, try to resist the urge to make more. I once made over ten pounds of them. Granted, it was for a crowd, but it was still a wee bit excessive. And worth it.

*I know, I know, there are still two tablespoons left. Usually if I'm making hash-browns, I use the rest of the butter making omelets. At this point, that's the healthy part of the meal!
Best. Breakfast. Ever.

4-5 medium potatoes
6 tablespoons butter
salt/pepper to taste

*Peel and grate the potatoes
*Rinse the grated potatoes under cool water until the water runs clear
*Using a dish towel, wring as much water as possible out of the potatoes. They should feel dry to the touch
*Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat.
*Melt four tablespoons butter in the pan, allowing it to brown slightly.
*Add the potatoes to the pan. Spread them out evenly and let them cook for three minutes
*Cover and cook for six additional minutes.
*Remove lid and invert a plate over the potatoes. Holding the plate against the potatoes with one hand, use the other hand to flip the pan so the hashbrowns are on the plate.
*Return the empty pan to the heat and brown two additional tablespoons of butter in it.
*Slide the hashbrowns from the plate into the pan, browned side up.
*Cook for six minutes, uncovered.

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