Hash Browns To Soothe Any Homesick Midwesterner

Sep 26, 2013
Originally published on September 26, 2013 7:09 pm

Ten years ago, when Amy Thielen moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., she and her husband bemoaned the lack of hash browns in the city. She says there were ample breakfast places serving home fries or sliced potatoes cooked with peppers and onions — but no hash browns.

"My husband would often rail when we would sit down to a plate of home fries," Thielen says. "He would say, 'Where is the dividing line? Where do hash browns stop in the United States?' "

A proud Midwesterner, Thielen says some of the diner breakfast potatoes were pretty tasty, but they lacked crunch. So while they were called home fries, none of them felt like home.

"They're really not hash browns proper, and growing up with a Midwestern breakfast [I] really missed that, missed them done right," Thielen says.

During a summer job at the German diner on the main street of Park Rapids, Minn., Thielen made the hash browns from scratch with boiled russet potatoes. If someone asked for onions and green peppers fried into his hash browns, the crunchy grated spuds became "glorified."

The importance of good hash browns had been drilled into Thielen from birth, and she missed the crunchy, dark brown flat-top and flaky, buttery potato interior that felt like home.

So she went home, and worked up this recipe for a glorified hash brown cake with frying peppers. Pretty much any pepper will do, she says, but she likes a Hungarian wax pepper. Because the moisture from the peppers sometime threatens to compromise the crunchiness of the hash browns, Thielen separates them and tops one large hash brown cake with a jumble of fried peppers.

Recipe: Glorified Hash-Brown Cake with Frying Peppers

The key to this perfectly Midwestern hash brown cake is the right balance between a crunchy outside and buttery inside. Cut this in wedges for serving. It goes with just about anything — with steak, especially — and also makes a dramatic vegetarian main course.

Serves 6

2 1/2 pounds (3 to 4) russet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

Fine sea salt

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) salted butter

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium Vidalia onion, diced

8 ounces green frying peppers, such as Hungarian wax or baby poblano, whole if small, halved if large

Note: To split up the process, you can boil and grate the potatoes and refrigerate them, loosely covered, for up to 8 hours before frying the hash-brown cake.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover generously. Salt the water, bring it to a simmer over medium heat, cover partially, and cook until the potatoes are tender enough to stick a fork into but still on the firm side of done, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let cool. (You can boil the potatoes up to a day ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator, if you like.)

While the potatoes are cooking, clarify the butter: Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat until it foams and starts to turn dark blond on top, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the butter sit for a few minutes. Then tilt the skillet toward you and gently spoon off the layer of foam. Pour the clear golden butter into another bowl, and then pour the dark dregs at the bottom of the skillet into the bowl containing the foam.

Grate the potatoes coarsely, skins and all, onto a baking sheet, making sure to keep them loose and not pack them down. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper in a small bowl, sprinkle over the potatoes, along with the diced onion, and gently mix to combine.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add half of the clarified butter. Add all of the potatoes in an even layer, keeping them loose. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the potato cake until the bottom turns dark amber brown, about 15 minutes. (Peek on the sides: If it's browning too quickly, turn the heat down to medium-low.)

Put a large plate upside down over the skillet, and using two thick oven mitts, grab the sides of the skillet and turn it upside down, releasing the hash-brown cake onto the plate. Put the empty skillet back on the burner and add all but 1 tablespoon of the remaining clarified butter. Slide the potato cake back into the skillet. Cook until the underside turns dark amber brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

While the potato cake is cooking, fry the peppers: Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of clarified butter. Add the peppers and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, flipping them often, until they blister and feel tender throughout, about 10 minutes.

To serve, lay the large plate upside down over the skillet, and using oven mitts, invert as before. (If the first side was prettier, invert the cake again onto another serving plate.) Top with a jumble of fried peppers. Cut into wedges and serve immediately

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



Today's Found Recipe is gluten-free, and it comes from the middle of the country - the Midwest. It's not a hot dish, a piergoi or even lutefisk, though we could have asked Amy Thielen to talk about any of those foods.

Amy Thielen is the author of "The New Midwestern Table," a cookbook that's like a love letter to the region. And the recipe she shares with us today goes back to her time as a grill cook in her native Minnesota.

AMY THIELEN: I call it the Glorified Hash Brown Cake with Frying Peppers. When I worked at a diner on Main Street in Park Rapids, when somebody asked for their hash browns with fried peppers and onions, we called them glorified.

I think it just means that they are gussied up or made fancy, kind of like going to church - hash browns that go to church.

On the East Coast, you always have home fries or hash or fried potatoes, but they're really not hash browns proper. And, you know, growing up with a Midwestern breakfast, we really missed that. We missed them done right.

We came to Brooklyn. We lived there for almost 10 years. We came there with a love for hash browns and it was hard to find them. In fact, my husband would often rail when we could sit down to a plate of home fries, which was fried potatoes with peppers and sometimes tomatoes. Which made it kind of soggy, you know? There's no crunch here. And he would say: What is the dividing line? Where do hash browns stop in the United States? Is it west of the Ohio River or something like that? Where is the boundary?

So when I got back to my home kitchen and I started thinking about the iconic dishes of my homeland. The Hash Brown Cake came to my and I wanted to make them glorified, but I wanted to do it in a way that would preserve its crunch.

To make Glorified Hash Brown Cake, boiled the russet potatoes in their skins. And then you just read them, you lay them in one layer. And then, you would heat your butter in a pan and you pile them very gently in sauce, by leaving some air in between all the shreds of potato. And fry until the bottom is really a hard topped crispy crust. Then you want to flip them, put them over very, very carefully in one big fat cake. And fry the other side until that's brown.

This is a proper hash brown. It's a cake and on one side you have a hard topped and the other side is hard, dark brown. And in the inside, there's a very flaky and white interior. It's buttery. It's light. It's kind of like feather-picky.

The glorification comes in with this idea of frying peppers on the side. I mean if you are doing this very casually, you just fry them altogether with onions and peppers. But I've always found that the onions and peppers - or the peppers especially, they give off a little moisture and that kind of ruins the hard crust. So I get a bunch of gardens peppers, you know? They can be any kind of frying pepper and I get whatever I've got - all the babies, the mediums.

And I just fry them in a little bit more butter in a pan on the side. Then I pile them on top of the cake.

And then when I bring it to the table, you just kind of slice the cake into wedges. And you have, you know, you serve it with a little bit of the pepper. And it's really, really good with steaks.

SIEGEL: That's Amy Thielen, author of "The New Midwestern Table." You can get her recipe at the Found Recipes page at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.