A tale of two potatoes.
“Home fries or hash browns, hon?”
If you’ve ever ordered breakfast at a diner, you’ve probably been asked this question, perhaps by a harried waitress. And you probably paused before responding. What is the difference between home fries and hash browns, anyway? Aren’t they both breakfast potatoes? Well, yes. And no.
Home fries are cubed or diced potatoes that are cooked in a skillet until they are brown and crisp on the outside and meltingly tender inside—perfect for mopping up runny egg yolks or extra gravy from a plate of biscuits. If you’re a fan of steak fries, you’re probably a fan of home fries.
The potatoes are usually pan-fried with thinly sliced onions, which caramelize as they cook, adding sweet and savory notes. Chopped bell peppers or chile peppers are another common addition to home fries. If you’re making home fries from scratch, use a cast-iron pan and a combination of butter and olive oil for the most flavor and better browning.
Hash browns, on the other hand, are all about texture. Potatoes (usually russet potatoes) are thinly shredded, then fried in oil until they are golden and crisp with frizzled edges. You can shred the potatoes by hand or buy them pre-shredded and frozen. The potato shreds are fried in a hot skillet on both sides, like a pancake, so that the entire exterior is wonderfully crispy. Or you can get really creative and use them to make the crust of a quiche. If your ideal French fry is skinny and crunchy, with no fluffy interior to speak of, hash browns are probably your breakfast potato of choice.
Whether you use pre-shredded potatoes or shred them yourself, be sure to squeeze out as much moisture from the potatoes as possible. That starchy liquid will prevent the hash browns from browning nicely as they cook.