Those darn grey, mushy hash browns!

You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig!

Hash browns can test the sand of any trail cook or home chef. For years I fought with mushy, grey looking hash browns as I tried to get them to look like the greasy spoon would make down the road. It was pretty frustrating to be sure. In fact, I became so adept at trashing my hash browns that I switched to cooking only home fries!

I tried everything. I’d heard of folks pressing raw and cooked spuds through a mechanical ricer, micro waving ‘em before frying, boiling ‘em before shredding, using butter to fry in, drying them in paper towels and oven roasting ‘em before frying. I even found out my neighbor used to run down to the greasy spoon, get a herd of hash browns to go, then place them on his family’s plates alongside their eggs and sausages. He was smart, he admitted the elusive hash brown had defeated him and was now just going with the flow. None of those tricks worked for me and I bet you all found out the same thing too. No matter what I tried, I still ended up with a grey, sticky slop. Does this sound familiar to you? What was worse is that I grew up on an Idaho potato farm in Jerome so I out’a know how to cook them, right? Not necessarily, we grew the famous thick skinned, high glycerin, high starch Idaho russet potato. To make matters worse, by now I owned and was the cook in my own restaurant.

Since my restaurant did not serve breakfast, I was still ignorant of proper hash brown cooking. My break came when I stopped in at the greasy spoon up the road for breakfast one day and got into a conversation about cooking difficult recipes with its owner. I explained my hash brown problem and had to ask, “What in Sam Hill am I doing wrong? I’ve tried cooking them using every trick in the book and they are nothing like yours!”

He said it wasn’t necessarily the way I was frying them  but WHAT  I was frying that was the problem.

I responded, “But I’m frying potatoes, what should I fry instead, shredded watermelon rinds?”

“No! just change your potato, that’s all!”

He told me that what I needed instead of using a starchy russet potato, was to use a potato grown largely in the eastern half of the country. My answer to my problem he vowed was to use the waxy or thin skinned low starch potato.

“But every recipe I’ve read calls for russets and that the waxy potato is no good for frying. Now you’re telling me it is?”

“Yes, but only when it comes to pan and not deep frying. ”

I knew that choosing the right type of potato to cook dinners with can make or break a dish. For instance, making a stew and using a russet and not a waxy potato ends up being a mushy disaster. On the other hand, using a waxy potato to make mashed potatoes is useless. Why???

Potatoes fall into one of two categories — mealy or waxy.

Mealy potatoes (Some of the names you’ll see them under in the supermarket are Idaho’s, Russet,  Burbanks, Russet Arcadia, Norgold Russet, Goldrush, Norkotah and Long White.) have are thick skinned and have a high starch content, but they’re low in moisture and sugar.

Waxy potatoes (red, new) are just the opposite. They’re high in moister, high in sugar but low in starch and have a thin skin. You will find them sold as Round White, Round Red, Yellow Potato, Red skin Potato and Salad Potato).

There is a third type but I don’t use them much. These are an all purpose middle of the road potato. I choose to use the correct potato for the job and achieve great results rather than settle for an all purpose potato and achieve just, OK results. Some of these potatoes are named, Yukon Gold, Peruvian Blue, Superior and Kennebec.

An easy way to tell the difference between the two main types is; Waxy potatoes have a thin skin, Starchy or Mealy potatoes have a thick skin.

Waxy potatoes are an excellent choice for roasting, sautéing and boiling. They make great soups, casseroles, home fries and hash browns because of their tendency to hold their shape. Waxy potatoes are also used in cold potato salad and scalloped or cheddar au gratin potatoes. Their low starch content and cellular makeup helps them maintain their shape long after they’re cooked.

Mealy or starchy potatoes are best for baking and deep-frying. Because they’re low in sugar, they can be deep fried long enough to cook fully in the center without burning the outside with black streaks. They’re also the best choice for mashed potatoes because they fall apart easily when they’re boiled. Because they are a starchier potato with a loose cellular structure, they fluff up much better than a waxy potato.

So now that you have a head full of potato knowledge go ahead and make your perfect hash browns. Just remember, use the correct potato in all your recipes and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Oh, and about internet web sites on cooking hash browns. You will find almost each will start out saying “Shred a Russet potato…”  THEY’RE WRONG!!!

Here’s the recipe I now use for my hash browns. As verified by the photos, you’ll see they are no longer grey, mushy or gooey but just right!

                                         Restaurant quality hash brown potatoes are just below the photo’s

Peel your potatoes. I use red skins.

Shred them using a cheese grater

Put shredded potatoes into a large pot or bowl then fill with water

Aggressively swish potatoes around. Note the starchy water

Drain the potatoes using a colander and repeat process by changing water 3-4 times until water remains clear

After giving a final rinse (pictured above) use your hand to squash the potatoes to remove excess water

If you are adding onions ( I do) dice them up and add them to the colander of potatoes. Season with salt and pepper at this time

Verify that your oil is up to temperature. Place a shred or two near the edge where it is coolest. It should immediately and violently begin to bubble.

Carefully place a handful of shreds in the oil. Once partway cooked, you can add another pile to the other side

Flatten pile using a spatula

When crispy, your hash browns will flip, more or less, in one piece

Each pile is cooking but at different times. This allows more ‘doneness’ control over each

My herd of hash browns are done. I place them in my counter top convection toaster oven to keep warm while I continue to cook the rest of the breakfast. *

* Note on counter top convection ovens.

I purchased this Oster extra large convection toaster oven from Wal-Mart for less than $100. It uses much less electricity than my large oven. I questioned whether or not it could perform any where near as well as my Whirlpool ‘Gold series’ Accu-bake oven does. It does!

I bake prefect bread, muffins, pizza, flat breads and more in it. I rarely give a product endorsement but in this case I will. It is worth every penny I spent.

Ingredients:

3-5 medium potatoes (approximately 3 cups shredded).

1 medium sweet onion.

1/2 tsp. salt then salt further  to taste if desired when eating.

1/4 tsp. pepper then pepper further to taste if desired when eating.

Add at least 1-2 Tbsp. butter or margarine to vegetable oil. (hash browns should be cooked in oil 1/8 – 1/4  inch deep to cook completely all the way through).

Directions:

Wash and peel the waxy (not russets) potatoes.

Use a cheese grater to shred the potatoes then place the shredded potatoes into a large bowl or pot.

Fill the pot or bowl full of water, stir aggressively by hand and empty the water by pouring the potatoes into a colander. Repeat this process until the water remains clear when agitated. (three or four times) This will remove most of the starch which causes hash browns to become gummy, mushy and grey looking.

Rinse the grated potato under cool water one last time in the colander. Press down, shake and press down again to remove excess water. Fluff and repeat . (Too much water will cause to hash browns to stick onto the bottom of the frying pan).

Dice the sweet onion and add to the colander of potatoes, mixing well. Add the salt the pepper and mix again thoroughly.

Bring to temperature the butter and oil combination in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, (not smoking) add the potato mixture. Once your potatoes are frying, turn the temperature down to medium. (Test your oil first by dropping a few potato sprigs into the pan. The sprigs should immediately and almost violently begin to bubble and boil).

Using a spatula, flatten  the pile of potatoes to desired thickness.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the bottom gets pretty crispy; about 10 minutes.

Flip the hash brown with the spatula, if too big, separate it into equal parts. Allow the other side to cook until very crispy; about 8-10 minutes.

Repeat this cooking process until all the shredded  potatoes are used. Potatoes that are not thoroughly cooked will hold oil, make sure the top and bottoms are nice and crispy.

Remove them from skillet, place the photo perfect potatoes on your plate and enjoy ’em!

Advertisements

Moist, sweet creamed corn cornbread

I returned from my Western States adventure with mixed emotions. Oh, don’t get me wrong now, I had myself a great ‘Ol time. I went discovering, (read my blog at www.campfireshadows.com) gold prospecting, wandered around the desert and mountains… I just had a ball!

What I meant to say though, was after unpacking my vehicle, putting all my wash together, repacking all my outdoor gear etc, I stepped into the kitchen and stood there just looking. The one room I love to make a mess in was spotless, like no one lived here. It looked down right lonesome! My pots hung without movin’,  my stove had no drips on it, my sink was empty… dang it if I didn’t feel bad starin’ at it.

Well, bein’ a fella that doesn’t sit around mopin’, I opened the fridge to see what I had readily available for that evenings dinner. I wasn’t about to go out and fast food it, I did that travelin’ all the way back home!  Inside the freezer I still had some containers of chilli I could thaw out, all I needed was some of my cornbread mix to go with it.

I usually make a giant tub of corn bread dry ingredient mix and keep it in the freezer. When I want corn bread, I scoop out 3 cups of the dry mix and add a single batch amount of wet ingredients to it.

By 6pm I had a quart of thawed and heated chilli and my cornbread skillet ready to pop into the oven.

I use a cast iron skillet to bake my corn bread in. The thickness of the cast iron makes sure the baking is even and the sides brown the cornbread perfectly to a golden brown.

As I was maulin’ my meal, I wondered how many folks even eat cornbread anymore. I know the ones I know up in West Virginia eat it with nearly every meal. Someday I’ll post their Cornbread casserole recipe! But like most people, they follow the directions on the package and end up with a dry ‘Ol crumbly cornbread that when eaten, imitates you draggin’ yourself through the Sonora Arizona desert at high noon with no water! Dry!

Well my cornbread ain’t that way at all! Soft (almost cake like), sweet, pieces of real corn within it, and best of all…Moist!

Try this recipe out just once. If you don’t like it… well, if you don’t like it then your taste buds must be damaged to all get out from all that dry crusty stuff you tried draggin’ over your tongue with previous corn bread recipes!

Corn bread

Dry mix ingredients;

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 1/2 cups of all purpose unbleached flour

1 1/2 cups of corn meal

½ cup of granulated sugar

Wet ingredients;

2 large eggs

1 cup of milk or butter milk

1/2 can (15 oz size of can) of creamed corn. Use only half of the can then freeze the rest in a zip lock bag for future use

2 Tablespoons of melted butter

 

Directions;

              pre heat oven to 400 degrees

1-      Using a spatula, mix dry ingredients together well in a large mixing bowl.

2-      In a separate smaller bowl whisk together eggs and milk.

3-      Stir in melted butter and creamed corn into the milk and egg mixture. Do not whisk.

4-      Create a low spot within the center of the dry mix bowl and slowly pour and mix the wet and dry ingredients together

5-      Pour into a 9” cast iron skillet or round 9” cake pan.

6-       Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and the cornbread springs back when lightly when pressed with the spatula.

* Photo by the author in his kitchen

Home made hamburger buns. (You’ll never buy buns again!)

While not a ‘true’ heritage recipe, I think making your own hamburger buns ranks up there with home made bread!

The density of these buns are heavier and therefor chewier than air puffed store bought buns. They also have a pleasanter taste.

Makes 8-12 buns depending on the size you want.

For hamburgers, I make the twelve count size, for sandwiches I do the eight count size.

Ingredients;

DRY (mix together before combining with Wet)

3 1/2 cups of bread flour (high gluten or bread flour) *

1/4 cup of sugar

1 1/4 tsp of salt

1 Tablespoon of yeast  (most any variety works well, one rises a bit faster than the other, that’s all )

* For delicious whole wheat Buns, use 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of bread or high gluten flour

WET (mix together before combining with Dry)

1 cup of warm water

2 Tablespoons of melted butter (not hot)

1 large egg (beaten)

Extra ingredients;

2  Tablespoons of melted butter ( to brush tops with before and after baking)**

Directions

Place DRY ingredients into a large mixing bowl (I use my Kitchen Aide mixer for this). Mix DRY ingredients for 1 minute before slowly adding WET ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run mixer until a smooth soft dough ball forms. ( 5 minutes minimum.)

Remove dough ball and place in a greased bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel until almost double in size. 1-2 hours. (Rising time depends on telp of dough, yeast, etc… don’t rush it but don’t let it get past double in size.

Once doubled, remove dough ball and press down lightly until it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in thickness.

 

Using a knife, cut the round dough into 8 or 12 pie shaped triangles.

Shape triangles into balls by pulling the three corners into the center, then continue pulling the sides into the center and pushing them deep into the rounded ball until a nice round ball without top or side wrinkles are seen.

Let small rounded dough rest for 5 more minutes.

With the palm of your hand, slowly flatten and spread out the dough balls until disc is about 1/2 inch thick and a minimum of 3 inches in diameter. The 8 cut size will be over 4 inches in diameter.

Place flattened disc on a parchment lined bakers tray, cover with kitchen towel and let rise until very puffy. 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness. (20 minutes to 1 hour)

Preheat oven to 375* at this time.

Brush melted butter onto top of buns before placing in oven.** If desired, sesame  seeds can be sprinkled on tops but use egg white wash (egg white and a tablespoon of water) instead of butter and do not butter again after removing from oven

Place in oven on center rack.

Bake until light brown 12 to 15 minutes ( lightly browned, not super pale but not dark either)

Remove from oven and brush tops again with melted butter.

Cool completely and place in large plastic Zip lock bags. Refrigerate.

Gods gift to Southerners, The catfish!


Reprinted from my book, Mawmaws recollections, observations and recipes. Free pdf download.

Did I mention fried Catfish yet? Nothin’s faster to make nor more delicious, I can smell it now!

Now I understand that many people think of catfish as a dirty ‘ol bottom feeding fish fit only for those who couldn’t afford (or catch) a Trout or Perch. The thing was, yes, it’s a bottom feeder, but y’all have to realize that most our streams an rivers back then was as clean as your tap water is today. Maybe I shouldn’t a said that, I hear there’s some pretty questionable tap water in some places. Anyway, it weren’t no Carp an besides most all Catfish today is farm raised anyway. I can’t understand why anyone would eat Talapia and not a Catfish. Talapi is raised to ‘clean up fish farm pods after Catfish,Trout, Salmon and other expensive fish foul it up with their poo. After the fish are harvested, Talapia are put in and ain’t fed, they eat the other fishes poo till the ponds clean, then they’re harvested!

As far as Catfish goes though, Northern or Southern, once bitten into, everyone agrees it’s dang good!

I always said that if you was able to starve in the South, then you must either have a bunch a marbles rollin’ round inside your head or you’s just plain too lazy to reach your hand out ten feet to get some edible substances. Remember Euell Gibbons? He wrote that book “Stalking the wild asparagus” in the early ’60’s. I still got my copy, still read it from time to time. He come through here one time asking folks for their recipes but he only wanted the ones made from local plants and nuts. Nice man from what I’s told. I hear tell he up an died of a stomach ailment. Ha! Must a been sumpin’ he ate!

Anyway, he showed how much food there really is around us all. We just have to recognize it. I assume the French an’ their uppity snails fit in there somewhere’s but God knows where. Catfish on the other hand is natures answer to those too clumsy to fish proper or for those bordering on being a vegetarian. It takes no skill to catch a Catfish. It takes more skill not too! An even if you’re not prone to eatin meat, why one look at a Catfish an you’d realize they’s so ugly they deserve to be eaten!

But, seeing them golden brown fillets sizlin’ in a iron skillit an having that delicious smell hit you smack in the nose makes you want to put an extra five in the collection plate to thank God for his gift of the Catfish.

Speaking of how easy they is to catch, I once caught one with my shoe! I was a youngster splashin’ in the pond near the house with my friends. I had my shoes up on a limb that over hung the shore a bit. One of ’em fell off, bounced on the ground and plopped itself right into the waters edge. Well, I walk on over and reached on down for my shoe. When I grabbed hold of it, my shoe tugged back at me! Frightened me to death! I screamed an not thinking yanked that ‘ol shoe up an outa the water in kind of a panic reaction sort a way. Out flew my shoe…with a big ‘ol catfish still trying to eat one a the tie strings on it. I got on outa’ there ’cause everyone told me how Catfish would sting ya up good if you touched ’em. I never did find out the truth in that.

Golden Pan Fried ‘Southern’ Catfish

“ If you say you can’t eat a Catfish because they’s so ugly, then why in tarnation would you eat rump roast!”

4-6 catfish fillets

¾ cup corn meal

¼ cup flour

¼ teaspoon of salt

½ cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

1/8 teaspoon of red pepper sauce

2 Tablespoons of oil

Preheat deep fryer or 5 qt sauce pan filled with 2 inches of oil in it to 375 degrees. Any hotter an you’ll burn and smoke up your oil.

Preheat oven to 275 to place fish in after frying to keep hot.

Rinse fish in water and towel dry.

Mix cornmeal, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in milk, beaten eggs, pepper sauce and 2 Tbl oil until well blended.

Coat fish with cornmeal batter, shaking off any excess.

Fry two fillets at a time until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Keep fried fish warm by placing on a cookie sheet in the oven until all are cooked.

Broiled Catfish Fillets

(A healthier alternative than fried Catfish)

4 catfish fillets

1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper

Lemon wedges for garnish on each plate

Sprinkle fillets with garlic salt and lemon pepper. Preheat broiler pan for 5 minutes. Coat with shortening spray. Place catfish fillets on broiler pan. Broil 3 inches from heat for 4-6 minutes until catfish flakes easily. Put some garnish like lemon wedges and stuff around them on a plate.