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(Inspired by, but broadening, Can you parfry hash browns in advance? )

In American diners, when you order home fries or hash browns, they are cooked to order, but are brought to the table in much less time than it would take me to fully cook them at home.

How can I prepare potatoes, then pause cooking, so that they can be finished off quickly to a high standard of crispy home fries / hash browns? Is there a technique whereby I can freeze the part-made dish?

(Note, I'm talking about fried loose potato, sometimes with onions. Not the dense patty of grated potato that's labelled 'hash browns' in British freezer sections, or rostis which are also patties)

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I'm a bit confused. Your question was to ask about home fries, but you seem to lay the accent on the hash browns. So what is the difference between your question and mine? –  Mien Jun 6 '13 at 14:46
    
Yours is just about par-frying. I broadened it (for @SAJ14SAJ ) to encompass any kind of pre-preparation. –  slim Jun 6 '13 at 14:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This answer is for sliced or diced home fries, such as this type:

enter image description here

Shredded style hash browns are much more difficult to pre-cook at home, since the shreds are fragile and go from under cooked to over cooked quickly.

Note that restaurants tend to simply have home fries on the griddle, in a warm section, essentially fully cooked. This is why they tend to be more cooked at the end of breakfast service than the beginning in many restaurants.

For home service, there are several effective techniques for making home fries cook more rapidly, or at least more conveniently.

Par-cook the potatoes

The easiest for pre-preparation is simply to par-cook the potatoes. In either case, the potatoes should be peeled (optional), and diced or sliced.

Cook them until they are just slightly under-done, but begining to be fork tender. This will depend on your type of potato. If you are using a waxy potato (such as a Red Bliss), you can cook them until they are fork tender as they hold their shape quite well; if you are using a starchy potato such as a Russet or Idaho, you want them just slightly resisting in the center.

After they are par-cooked, you may optionally refrigerate or even freeze them before finish cooking.

There are several methods which are effective for the par-cook, depending on your volume:

  • Microwave, suitable for a couple of potatoes. Put plastic wrap or a loosely sealed lid on the container so they steam as well, and stir them fairly frequently to be evenly cooked.
  • Steaming. Probably more work that it is worth, but very effective.
  • Simmering/boiling. Start the potatoes in cold water. Depending on the size of your dice or slice, they may be done about the time the water begins to boil; in any case, simmer them until done as described above. Drain well, or even dry with towels.

To finish cooking them, fry them on a hot griddle with generous butter (or other fat, to taste), salt, pepper, and other additions that you desire such as onions, peppers and so on until they are brown on all sides, and somewhat crispy. This will take about 5 minutes per side depending on your heat.

Hybrid wet-dry

This is the method I personally use the most, as the results can be outstanding, although you need experience to judge exactly how they should come out. It is also only for reducing the cooking time, more than for pre-staging some of the preparation.

  1. Dice or slice, and optionally peel your potatoes

  2. In a wide pot where the potatoes will form a shallow layer (preferably non-stick, or they will sick a little and form a lot of fond, which will make it harder to get them crispy), add the potatoes and water to barely cover. You will learn how much water over time for your cook top (hob), dice or slice size, and flame level.

    You can also add butter, salt, pepper and such at this stage.

  3. Cook the potatoes on high for about 10 minutes or until the water is gone. Ideally, if guaged correctly, this will leave you potatoes at the "almost done" stage described in the par-cooking method.

  4. Add fast cooking vegetables such as onions or peppers.

  5. Continue cooking on medium high heat, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are nicely golden brown and delicious.

Oven hybrid method

This method can be used for pre-preparation. The finish cooking takes longer, but is hands off.

  1. Prepare potatoes as usual, and pan fry them until browned. They will still be essentially raw inside. That is okay.
  2. At this point, you can reserve and pause.
  3. To final cook, place (with salt, pepper, slightly pre-cooked onions or peppers, and other enhancements) in a moderate oven to heat through and re-crisp. Depending on temperature, this can take 20-30 minutes.

This method will not give perfectly crispy potatoes like the first two methods, but is suitable for having a large quantity, as for a brunch party, ready for service at the same time.

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Very thorough. Thanks. –  slim Jun 6 '13 at 12:29
    
Don't need to stir hash browns while par-cooking them in a microwave. If you put them in a round covered bowl, they'll cook into a neat, cohesive 'patty' that can be turned directly into frypan for browning. –  Wayfaring Stranger Jun 6 '13 at 12:53
    
But depending on the size/volume, may not microwave evenly.... and this style of hash brown is not usually served as a patty, although I imagine it could be. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 6 '13 at 13:02

I'm not aware of any freezing techniques that are beneficial -- although you can buy them that way, the time required to thaw them slows you down more.

I do a home-fries style, and parcook the potatoes -- when I'm baking potatoes, I cook a few few extra, then let cool, wrap them in foil and stash in the fridge. I've held them for a week or more without problem, but Still Tasty recommends 3-5 days

When I want to make hash, I preheat a pan with a bit of oil, chop up the potato, and toss it in. I let it brown on one side while I chop up vegetables (onions and peppers, typically), then turn the potatoes over to crisp on a second side while the vegetables cook.

In my years of perfecting this technique, I've developed a few adaptations:

  • Only slice the potatoes for the first round; you can break 'em into smaller bits with a spatula later ... this lets you make sure you get everything browned on two sides when you go to flip.
  • Place the onion in the pan in a slab / single slice, rather than chopped into bits ... you get better pan contact to let it brown, then flip, brown again, then break up with the spatula.
  • If you're going to add meat, raw sausage needs to go down first, so it has sufficient time to cook; I end up pressing it out into a patty (again, so I don't have to tend the whole thing). If you're using something pre-cooked (I like kielbasa), you can throw it in later ... timing depends on how small you slice it.

I'm not sure on the exact timing, because I've varied the stove temperature through the years to intentionally have it take the same time as my getting ready in the morning:

  1. Start the water for the shower, as it takes a minute to warm up.
  2. Start the pan (14" cast iron skillet) pre-heating on the stove on medium heat, and take the potato out of the fridge.
  3. Take a shower
  4. Slice the potato, and put it in the pan
  5. Get dressed
  6. Turn the potatoes, add the onion and peppers
  7. Shave
  8. Flip the onion, break up the potatoes, then the onion
  9. Serve

Optionally, you can crack an egg or two into it just before serving ... it gives the onion an extra minute or so to brown on the second side. (I kill the heat first; there's enough left in the pan if you're using cast iron ... also gives me enough time to put a tie on if it's a day w/ meetings)

This timing would likely not work unless you also live in an apartment or home where the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are all near each other. (or you like running up and down stairs).

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The dense mushy patties labelled as hash browns in the freezer section does not speak to how a hash-brown should be, rather their unsuccessful attempt at making one.

The kind of crispy hash-browns that you're describing is similar to a Rösti but thinner. Chef Kenji has two recipes that can help you along in understanding what you need to during your preparation time and pick-up time.

In his Rosti method (with onions and all), he uses the microwave to accelerate the cooking of the potatoes.

Chef Kenji also broke down the art of making fries better than anyone in the public domain. In his perfect french fries method he explains how you can freeze the blanched and par-fried potatoes to help make them crispier (freeze dehydrate) during the final frying (pickup).

If you follow the fries process using grated potatoes (instead of the 1/4" fry-cut), you should arrive at a decent output. The modification I'd recommend in the case would to blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water instead of bringing to a boil. As SAJ14SAJ mentioned, the grated potatoes are fragile and take a lot less time to cook.

Otherwise, the Rosti method works for thinner patties to make great hash-brown as well.

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Its Kenji (that is a given name) Lopez-Alt. I am not sure he would call himself a chef, although he is a great practical food scientist. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 6 '13 at 19:24
    
Omg! thanks. I used to call him chef over email a few years back and he didn't object iirc. His TEDx profile also calls him chef, and if Rachel Ray is a chef.... He did work at many restaurants so he's not just a foodsci guy. Thanks for catching the shamefull typo. –  MandoMando Jun 6 '13 at 22:53
    
I guess I am one of those old school guys who considers a chef a role, not a profession. Julia Child never called herself a chef, in contrast to Jacques Pepin who certainly was. Working the line isn't the same :-) But I guess that old meaning is gone, and it just means "cooking professional" now. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 6 '13 at 23:07
    
@SAJ14SAJ yes, really old-school chef literally meant the chief of the kitchen brigade. Newer distinction is between a Chef and Cook, where a Chef can design a menu and cook is your cooking professional. I think Kenji qualifies for both defs. Certainly the respect for the title and earning it is becoming diluted in new-school. Old-school rocks, some of my all-time favourite recipes are 700 years old and comply with every trick in modern food science. –  MandoMando Jun 7 '13 at 16:10

Melissa D'Arabian has a great recipe for Perfectly Crispy Potatoes that allows for you to partially make Home Fried ahead of time and finish them later. The potatoes are peeled, diced, and put into a med/high skillet with some oil, where they are stirred and fried for 5 mins. At the end of 5 mins., a couple of tablespoons of water is added and a lid is put on to let them steam for 3 minutes. It really makes the interiors fluffy. The lid is taken off the skillet and the potatoes are cooked until the bottom of the pan is dry for a minute or so (leave a little moisture if you are going to cook them later, because you don't want the potatoes to be too dry). Then a few tablespoons of butter or oil to the potatoes and mix them. At this point, you can either refrigerate the potatoes or finish cooking them by putting them onto a pre-heated cookie sheet at 375 - 400 degrees. Add a little more oil or butter if you think they need it for roasting. Roast the potatoes, stirring every 10 minutes, until desired degree of brownness (about 20 mins.) The par-frying, steaming, and further roasting makes for a crispy potato outside with a fluffy interior.

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