Hash browns are a potato dish made by grating, julienning, or finely dicing potatoes and then frying them. There are a number of different forms of hash browns, and numerous individual cultural variations such as rösti and latkes. Many North Americans associate hash browns with breakfast food, although they may be eaten at other times of the day as well. A wide assortment of restaurants offer hash browns, and they are also very easy to make at home.
The potatoes used in hash browns can be prepared in a number of ways. Some cooks, for example, pre-cook them by baking or boiling, so that they will cook all the way through on the stove. Others use raw potatoes, grating them coarsely and then patting or squeezing them dry so that they are not excessively starchy. The potatoes may also be mixed with other ingredients such as onions, zuccini, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and anything else the cook might imagine.
Once the potatoes and other ingredients have been shredded and mixed, they are pan-fried, typically in a heavy pan which will conduct heat evenly. Butter, oil, or a combination of both may be used to make hash browns, and the heat is usually held around medium. When the heat is ideal, the hash browns will become brown and crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Most cooks press hash browns down as they cook, forming a flat potato cake.
Some cooks form their hash browns into patties or shapes like tater tots. These shapes can make the hash browns easier to manage as they cook, since a full pan of hash browns is tricky to maneuver. Once fried to perfection, the hash browns are served with condiments like salt, pepper, ketchup, applesauce, hot sauce, and sour cream, depending on personal taste and the region of the world. Sides such as sausage and eggs are common in North America.
Swiss rösti are hash browns which may be mixed with onion, bacon, apples, and other ingredients before being formed into roughly circular potato cakes. Many Swiss think of them as a classic dish, and they can be served with any meal, not just breakfast. In the Jewish tradition, latkes are a form of hash browns which are used in the celebration of Hanukkah. Latkes are mixed with small amounts of matzo flour, onion, and eggs, and they are formed into small patties which are fried in oil. Another variant on the theme is boxty, a type of Irish potato pancake with a fine consistency almost like a pancake.