Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hash browns

Last year my dad and I did a road trip through the American south. In Florence, Alabama we went to our first Waffle House. I'd read an article about it in Bon App├ętit, of all places. Turns out this fast food franchise with its bright yellow sign is beloved of fancy food writers who grew up in the south. And not just them, obviously. In our second Waffle House in Kimball, Tennessee, a couple of loggers in their 60s sat in the booth next to ours and struck up a conversation. Families traipsed in and out. Old people, young people. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast any time of the day as well as familiar fast food fare like burgers and BLTs, furnished with booths and a wraparound diner counter, there was something undeniably cheery about the place, so much so that by our third Waffle House in Dandridge, TN, we were actually picking our motels based on how close they were to one. 

It goes with out saying that they're famous for their waffles. But the other menu mainstay no matter what time of the day or night, are their hash browns. Brilliant for breakfast with eggs and bacon and all manner of greasy goodness, perfect for lunch or dinner too especially if you order them "all the way" which basically means topped with everything from mushrooms to cheese to sausage gravy. There's nothing not to like about fried potato, especially when they're like these: lacy, crispy latticework, golden brown and buttery. Best of all, now I'm back in Sydney and a million miles away from my favourite fried food fix, I just discovered that one of those fancy food writers - James Beard award-winning Josh Ozersky - worked out how to make Waffle House hash browns at home. All you need is a box grater, a potato, some butter, a sprinkling of salt and a cast iron skillet. Oh. And three minutes. Don't believe me? Watch. Then make them yourself. I did. And I'm going to again. For dinner tonight.

Hash browns
Recipe by Josh Ozersky, via Food52

The key here is not to be greedy - just do one serving at a time, no more than half a potato per person. If making for more than one, you can keep the cooked hash browns warm in an oven heated to a low temperature.

Potatoes (about 1/2 medium potato per person)
Salted butter
Salt (I used Maldon)

Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet til sizzling, and just when the foaming subsides, coarsely grate an unpeeled potato over it on the large holes of a box grater. Do it sparingly, so that you see as much pan as potato; don’t pile it up anywhere.

Once the potato hits the pan, salt it. The reason you want there to be so much space is to give the steam somewhere to go. Potatoes need to shrink and shrivel, concentrating their taste down and replacing their water with fat. Give them room and let them bind with each other as the starch comes out. Amazingly, the shreds will form a latticework of starch, butter and salt. 

Once this happens, slide it out of the pan in one motion onto a plate. Then flip, salt lightly again and cook for another 15 to 20 seconds. Alternately, you can flip in a couple pieces with a sturdy spatula. 

Serve with your favourite fixings: egg, bacon, sausage, chili, gravy, mushrooms, the list goes on...


  1. Going to try these ASAP, Waffle House is one of those mythic food places that usually disappoint in real life so good to know it lives up to its reputation. Is there any type of potato that works best here?

    1. I would advocate for the most standard variety potato. No need for anything fancy here. No need to even peel it. Just wash off the dirt and grate straight into the pan.

  2. Love this story Alice and love imagining you and your Dad going motel hopping and stuffing yourselves - and I will most definitely have a go at trying these.