I’ll just start by saying that a portion of hash browns, as they are now commonly made or bought, on a Full English Breakfast isn’t really my top preference in the morning. On a huge evening fryup I feel that they have some merit, but I also feel that there are more and better options for presenting the humble fried spud and that we might actually have been doing it all wrong for a long time.
The Hash Brown is an American import which has firmly established itself as a favourite on Britain’s greasy fryups. They were originally called “hashed brown potatoes” (or “hashed browned potatoes”), of which the first known mention is by food author Maria Parloa wrote about in 1888,
Or so Wikipedia would have us believe. But we’ll come to that in a bit…
In the UK, sadly the most popular choice is frozen blocks of processed potato deep fried. Cheap, nasty and absorb almost their own weight in the fat they’re fried in. Some caffs don’t change their fat very often and fry lots of different things in the same fryer. Just ponder on that one for a moment.
The other option is to make your own, there are lots of variants but probably the most popular is a Swiss rosti-style affair using shredded raw potato with the moisture squozen out and sometimes customised with exotic flavours then fried in a pattie shape like a burger.
What if we’ve been doing it wrong? What if Hash Browns weren’t an American import, what if the origin of proper bona fide bull-goose Hash Browns went back centuries and were almost the opposite of sh!t frozen hash or solid rosti wannabees.
Please take a minute to look at this brilliant article by the Old Foodie, I agree with almost everything the author says here.
I’ve almost always conformed to the idea that a hash has to be a regular solid shape, usually a patty. It seems now that cooked loose is the proper way. I have hardly ever used raw spuds in my home-made Hash Browns. Potatoes are blanched or boiled, sometimes leftover surplus spuds or roasties from the previous night, which is bang on with the traditional recipes. The Old Foodie’s article has got me wanting to try a few of the recipes on there and bend them a little maybe. Of course if you fully subscribe to the idea that proper Hash Browns are actually a loose fried up collection of potato-rich leftovers then in theory, (dons tinfoil hat) Hash Browns are actually merely an inferior version of the mighty Bubble & Squeak.
Now I’m not saying that loose cooked fried spuds are better because they are ‘traditional’, positive change should be encouraged, we can’t live in the past forever but the past often has a few secrets which we can learn from and I think this is one of them.
Hash Browns as described in the article are better because they are better. Ironically though, all of the top 3 Hash Browns I have experienced in a loose rather than solid style had North American origins. Moose Cafe in Liverpool city centre, a Canadian stylee place that didn’t do a fryup but did a mean mustardy soft and crispy concoction, a mad Bostonian relative who used to live off them but had straightforward diced and seasoned par-cooked spuds, fried on a cast iron skillet with onions down to a tee. The best though were when I was but a young Dr Fryling and drove out to Snoqualmie in Washington State to hang around all the Twin Peaks Locations. Yes, I was that sad. As well as having damn fine cherry pie and coffee in the diner that was used by David Lynch in the series (as it turns out just from the outside, the inside was built in a studio to mimic Mar-T’s) I had some breakfast and with it the most marvelous delicious soft spuds hard fried in bacon grease, and described as “home-fries”.
So there it is, out in the open, you’ve been doing it completely wrong for ages. I for one welcome our new soft spud loose-fried overlords and will most likely be banging them on my next fry to try them out.