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When I have breakfast at a typical American restaurant, for me one of the highlights is the potatoes. Usually they accompany eggs - fried, poached or scrambled, sometimes garnished with smoked meat. Some call these spuds breakfast potatoes, others refer to them as country fried potatoes, but most often they're called simply hash browns. The potatoes might be in cubes, but usually they are grated or cut in thin strips that hold together as a golden-brown cake. In short, they resemble latkes.
At American supermarkets you can buy frozen ready-to-cook hash brown potatoes. Essentially they are shredded peeled potatoes. One year, when my mother and I were celebrating Hanukka and we wanted quick latkes, I mixed the packaged potatoes with eggs, and the latkes came out fine. Another time, we decided to try frying the potatoes as pancakes without adding eggs.
Following the package directions, we patted the potatoes into a small hot skillet coated with oil and cooked them as a cake. Some would say we were making hash browns, but they came out as crisp, tasty latkes.
This type of cake is made in several potato-loving countries. The Swiss call them rosti, and consider them a specialty of their country. James McNair author of James McNair's Potato Cookbook, describes rosti as Swiss-style straw mat potatoes: "Similar to America's hash browns, Switzerland's famous panfried potato cakes combine a crunchy crust with a meltingly tender interior." Traditionally they are fried in butter. Sometimes a sprinkling of grated Swiss cheese is scattered over the top after the potatoes are flipped; the cheese melts by the time the bottom is crusty.
Lindsey Bareham, author of In Praise of the Potato, fries her rosti potato cakes in olive oil and butter, or, for a variation, chicken fat. Margaret S. Fox and John Bear, authors of Morning Food, prepare an Austrian type of hash featuring diced roast beef, fried onions and caraway seeds mixed with the potatoes.
In France these types of potato cakes are known as galettes. Anne Willan, author of French Regional Cooking, uses goose fat for frying potato galettes in the style of Languedoc (a province in the south of France) and flavors them with garlic.
With these types of potato dishes, you can start with raw or cooked potatoes. The advantage of starting with boiled potatoes, according to Irma S. Rombauer, one of the authors of The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking, is that the potatoes stick together better and cook more quickly, but she notes that some prefer the texture of hash browns that begin with raw potatoes.
To make these potato cakes, you season shredded potatoes and add them to a frying pan of hot oil or butter, then cook them until the bottom of the cake browns. As with latkes, if you start with raw potatoes, you have to lower the heat so the potatoes cook through without burning. As the potatoes cook, it's a good idea to shake the pan occasionally so they don't stick.
Once the bottom is brown, you flip the cake onto a plate, return it to the pan and brown the second side. Many cooks recommend pressing on the potatoes as they finish cooking so they hold together.
As with potato latkes, starch is the secret to success. The starch content of the potato helps hold the potato shreds together. You don't rinse the potatoes after you shred them, or they would lose some of their starch; but it's OK to put the peeled potatoes in a bowl of water to prevent discoloring.
The advantage of hash browns is that they are easier to make than any of the others. You can serve hash browns as a round cake, or cut it in irregular pieces. Instead of flipping the hash browns as a cake, Rombauer advises a simpler method - cut the cake down the middle, then turn each side over using two spatulas. "Do not worry if they do not turn evenly, this is a 'hash'!" For breakfast, you can serve hash browns the American way with eggs and smoked meat. I also like them topped with sour cream and lox, or with the traditional Hanukka latke partners - applesauce and sour cream.
BREAKFAST POTATO CAKE WITH GARLIC
This recipe is inspired by the Languedoc potato galette in Anne Willan's award winning French Regional Cooking, for which I researched and drafted the recipes. Willan advises using a well-seasoned omelet pan for frying these potatoes; otherwise they will stick. Instead of cutting the potatoes in sticks, you can use a coarse grater. For a variation, you can add sauteed onions or mushrooms.
450 to 500 gr. potatoes
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
salt and pepper
4 to 5 Tbsp. olive oil
Peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of cold water. Drain and dry well with paper towels.
Cut the potatoes first in thin slices, then in very thin strips; if possible, cut them on a mandoline.
Mix the potatoes with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Work fast so that the potatoes don't discolor.
Heat the oil in a large skillet (25 cm.) and add the potatoes. Press them down firmly with a lid or heatproof plate that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan. Cook the potatoes for 5 minutes over medium heat, remove the lid and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are brown on the bottom. Set a large heatproof plate over the skillet and turn both over so that the potato cake falls into the plate. Slide the cake back into the skillet.
Cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the second side is browned; the potatoes should hold together like a cake. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and of the Fresh from France cookbook series.
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