Crisp, golden hash browns are a cherished part of breakfast for many Americans. Frying seems to bring out the best in potatoes, concentrating their earthy sweetness and caramelizing their exposed surfaces to a crisp, flavorful gold. There are two main approaches to making hash browns, one using raw potatoes and one using cooked or leftover potatoes. Both have their adherents, and both are delicious when done well.
Raw Potato Method - Peel your potatoes and rinse them under cold running water to remove any surface dirt. Shred them coarsely on a box grater or in a food processor with a shredding disc attached. Transfer the shredded potatoes to a large bowl, and take them to your sink. Fill the bowl with cold water and toss the potatoes several times with your hands to loosen any excess starch.
Drain the potatoes into a colander, and rinse with cold water. Return them to the bowl and repeat until the water in the bowl remains clear and shows no cloudiness from the starch. Drain once more.
Squeeze out as much moisture from the potatoes as you can, using your hands. A salad spinner can be used for this as well. Turn out the potatoes onto a clean kitchen towel and roll it into a tight cylinder. Twist the ends to force out as much additional moisture as possible.
Heat a small amount of oil or butter, or both, in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Drop the fluffy shredded potatoes into the skillet. Shape them into patties or into one large round of potatoes 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Use two skillets, if necessary.
Season the potatoes lightly with salt and pepper and cook uncovered until the potatoes have become translucent all the way through and the bottom is deeply golden. This will usually take five to seven minutes.
Turn the potatoes and cook until the other side is golden brown, approximately four or five minutes longer. Serve immediately.
Cooked Potatoes Method - Boil the potatoes in a heavy saucepan until almost cooked, then drain and cool them. Peel the potatoes and shred them on a grater, or cut them in 1/4-inch dice. Alternately, cut or shred cold leftover boiled or baked potatoes in the same way.
Heat a skillet over a medium-high burner. Add a small amount of oil, butter or both, then the potatoes. Shape the potatoes into patties, or leave them as a single large round. Use two skillets if you have too much potato for one.
Cook uncovered for three to five minutes, until the underside is crisp and golden. Turn the potatoes.
Fry until the second side is well browned, another three to five minutes. Serve immediately, while fresh and hot.