When you order hash browns at a diner, you’re liable to get any number of things. In my experience, all hash browns can be broken into two broad classifications:
Hash Browns Made from Cubed Potato. Also called home fries. This is the less interesting of the two classes.
Hash Browns Made from Grated Potato, bound to varying degrees. Highly bound and cohesive varieties include McDonald’s Hash Browns, Tater Tots, and Jewish latkes. Loosely or not-at-all bound varieties would be found in corned beef hash. Hash browns made from grated potato are similar to several traditional European potato dishes, notably the Swiss rösti. They are superior to those made from cubed potatoes because they have a much higher ratio of crispy brown exterior to soft, potatoey interior.
Hash browns are a simple preparation, the only ingredients being potato, salt, and oil for frying. They are quick, and don’t require any par-cooking.
When cooking highly bound grated potato hash browns at home, high heat is key. When I say high heat, I’m talking about more than the control dial on the stove. That’s only part of the equation, because to have constant high heat you also need a heavy pan. The thin, damn-near-flimsy non-sticks that most folks have can get very hot, as long as there’s nothing in the pan. As soon as the potatoes are pressed within, the temperature drops dramatically and will take a few minutes to recover.
We want to aggressively brown the potatoes. Heavy stainless steel (or cast iron) is key, and if the pan is hot enough and well-oiled, I promise that the potatoes won’t stick. Use abundant oil. Maybe 1/8″ or even slightly more.
No need to add any binder, like flour or egg: grated potato will stick together just fine. Grate the potatoes using the large holes in a box grater. I leave the skins on. There’s flavour in there. Some recipes recommend squeezing excess moisture from the grated potato before frying. I don’t really understand why you would do this. The hash browns turn out just fine without wringing. Sprinkle the potatoes uniformly over the pan, then gently press with a spatula so that the patty is about 1/4″ thick.
I make a single hash brown as big as my pan will allow and pile any “garnishes” such as eggs on top. My favourite breakfast:
1. Latkes are not usually considered hash browns because they include flour and egg, making them “potato pancakes”. However, most commercial hash browns contain some kind of binder (corn starch at McDonald’s). The distinction is arbitrary.