The secret to hash browns / home fries / breakfast potatoes


I have never been successful in making pan-fried potatoes àla the American diner.
It seems like such a simple concept, but they never turn out right! Usually undercooked & oily, with some parts getting burned…

Ideally, I'd like to produce potatoes that are crispy and golden brown on the outside, fully cooked and soft on the inside, and not excessively oily. What are the important factors to ensure this?

Some variables I've considered:

  • Type of Potato
  • Shape of cut (grated, thinly sliced, cubed, etc.)
  • Cooking technique (parboil first, or straight in the pan? How much oil, what temp, etc.)
  • Type of oil

I have yet to find a combination of values for these variables that produces proper hash browns… What are your guidelines for making breakfast potatoes? Which of the above variables are important? Are there any other keys that I am missing?
It seems so simple when diners do it; I can't figure out where I am going wrong…

Edit: I was afraid this would happen… terminology clarification: apparently I'm looking more for "home fries" or something to that effect. I do not want a solid potato pancake àla McDonald's hash brown; I am looking for pan fried potatoes; the pieces should be seperate (although they may stick together a bit in places). Some pictures I've found that seem to be more in line with my thoughts:

oven home fries pan fried potatoes fried potatoes



Best Answer

It sounds to me like the issue may be that you're crowding the pan.

Basically, to get everything nice and brown and crispy, you need enough space for all of the steam to escape. That picture you showed has potatoes stacked on top of each other -- that means as the bottom items cook, they're going to end up steaming the items above them.

At a diner, they have a large griddle to work with -- they can really spread things out. You're not typically that lucky in a regular kitchen, as you don't have as much space, and you have a lip on the pans that'll hold the steam in.

So, either work in smaller batches, or consider recipes that use an oven -- using sheet pans instead of a pan on the stove solves much of the problem.

One other trick is that most diners don't start from raw potatoes -- maybe with hash browns, but not for home fries, you're not going to get the nice soft interior in a reasonable amount of time unless you start with a potato that's already been baked or boiled. (If you're doing things in the oven, you might be able to, but not in a pan)

Just for reference ... I have a 14" cast iron skillet that I use for home fries ... and it's about the right size for cooking a single large potato, which might be two servings, maybe three for kids. (I tend to cook carb-heavy meals).

update : I probably should've stated this directly -- you want the chunks of potato to form a single layer in the pan, with space in between them.