“This is my interpretation of Jim Beard's hash browns, as he described them in his seminal tome, ‘American Cookery.’ Hash-browns are, in essence, a sauté of boiled potatoes, and you want them just cooked through before you begin the browning, just soft enough so that you can begin mashing them down roughly as you sauté, gathering and pressing them into a loose brown cake. Freshly boiled potatoes and good fresh fat are essential here.
As to equipment, I like the omelet pan shape, 10-inches top diameter, with a long handle and slanting sides 2 inch sides. Well-seasoned cast iron is excellent, or heavy cast aluminum nonstick. My old cast iron Griswold skillet is another possibility; its short handle makes tossing more difficult, but it works. I use a sturdy plastic pancake turner for mashing and so forth, and a big plate to act as a cover for the pan as well as to help in unmolding and turning.”
--Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Alfred A. Knopf
A 10-inch skillet; a plastic pancake turner; a large plate
For 2 people, you'll want a scant pound of "boiling" potatoes----2 very big or 3 medium big---the kind that hold their shape during cooking. Yukon golds are my choice here. Peel them, then cut them into ½ to 3/4–inch cubes—you’ll have about 2 ½ cups. Drop at once into a saucepan of cold water to cover, salt lightly and bring to the boil. Boil slowly, partially covered, for about 5 minutes. Test by eating a cube, which should be almost but not quite done. Drain in a sieve, then toss lightly in a clean towel to remove moisture and set on a plate. You may get this done up to a hour in advance.
Ten minutes or so before you are to serve, set the frying pan over moderately high heat and when warm swirl in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1 of unsalted butter. When the butter foam has almost subsided, toss in the potatoes. Let sit undisturbed for 20 seconds or so, then give the potatoes a toss----shaking and jerking the pan toward you by its handle--to let the cubes brown for several seconds on another side.
Continue thus for several minutes until the cubes are lightly browned all over, adding driblets of oil if they seem to be sticking. Season lightly with salt and fresh pepper then begin to mash the potatoes down roughly with your pancake turner, breaking some of them up. Lower heat to moderate, dot the surface with a tablespoon or so of butter, cover the pan and let steam for a minute or so while a crust forms on the bottom. Check seasoning.
Now you want to turn the cake over and let the potatoes crust on the other side. Do so either with a daring flip, or slide them onto the big plate and reverse in to the pan, browned side up--easier said than accomplished think. I prefer a slightly messy flip which you can push and shove into place.
If you are not quite ready to serve, keep the potatoes warm, uncovered. To serve, slide them onto a hot platter. Hash browns make a lovely bed for broiled chicken or game hens, and, of course, for steaks, chops, and hamburgers.