Hash browns are made from shredded potatoes, fried until crisp on the outside and cooked tender on the inside. This potato dish is readily available from restaurants and in ready-to-fry form at grocery stores. However, homemade hashbrowns often end up undercooked, gummy or burnt. Using the right potatoes and the correct preparation techniques can help you produce better, crisper hash browns.
These starchy potatoes are most familiar as large, baking potatoes. According to The Cook's Thesaurus, russets are prized for use as french fries, since their starchy interiors stay fluffy and their outsides stay crisp. Russet potatoes are often called long white potatoes, Idaho potatoes or Norkotah potatoes for their appearance or for regions where they're commonly grown.
These potatoes are commonly boiled, steamed or roasted and served with butter. Young versions may be called “new potatoes.” Waxy potatoes tend to be round and have a smooth, thin skin and low starch levels. Their skins may be red, white, yellow or even purple. Some cooks prefer waxy potatoes for their shredded hashbrowns, since these potatoes hold their shape better during cooking. According to The Fastest Chef in the West, these potatoes are less likely to become mushy or mealy. However, shredded waxy potatoes become gummy more easily than russets and their low starch content prevents fluffiness.
All purpose potatoes have a starch content between that of russets and waxy potatoes. They have a higher moisture level than that of baking potatoes and hold together in boiling water. All-purpose potatoes also produce less gummy results when mashed or fried. These potatoes include the Peruvian blue and Yukon gold varieties. When used in hash browns, they tend to produce results between those of russets and waxy types.
Good preparation is important to producing quality hash browns from any type of potato. Grate the potatoes using a coarse grater, then rinse the shreds to remove excess starch, which can result in a sticky feel. Put a little lemon juice or citric acid into the rinse water to prevent graying and discoloration. Use paper towels, a potato vice, or a press to squeeze the excess liquid out of the grated potatoes. Frying wet potatoes often results in crumbly or mushy hash browns. Fry hash browns in a hot skillet with plenty of oil, keeping them no more than ½ inch thick.
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G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.