Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.
I learned something on a recent roadtrip South: the Waffle House is no longer an exclusively Southern delight. Not as nationally ubiquitous as Cracker Barrel, you can still get your pecan waffle and cheese grits fix as near to New York as Bethlehem, PA.
Where I grew up, in semirural/suburban North Carolina, the Waffle House was a sketchy roadside joint frequented by exhausted truckers and tweaking rednecks. At least, that’s was the conventional wisdom. Nice girls who wanted breakfast food after a late-night movie went to Shoney’s. My friends and I were nice girls.
Our idea of a fun Friday night was straight out of Gidget minus the surfing (I even named my car LaRue after Gidget’s best friend). After seeing a movie or working on our musical at A’s house, we’d drive past the Waffle House on Hwy. 74, turning up our noses at the pick-up trucks with gun racks and late-model Chevys for classier (read: safer) fare at the all-you-can-eat breakfast bar.
It wasn’t until college that I dared enter the greasy, syrupy underworld of the Waffle House, likely after alcohol-infused evenings with my theatrical cadre. We were old enough to feel worldly and young enough to feel invincible. Though my first experience is lost down the memory hole, it seems like I’ve always gone there.
Beyond waffles, WH is known for “scattered and smothered” hash browns, which come crisp as can be after being “scattered on the grill” and then “smothered” in sauteed onions. An additional array of verbs are available for your fried potatoes, including “covered” with cheese and “capped” with mushrooms.
To me, these are the gold standard in hash browns, and I can’t imagine the oil slick necessary to create the crunch they achieve. For these reasons, and the notion that hash browns just seem hard and scary, I’ve never made them before. However, Sunday, I set out to make a healthier and equally delicious version for brunch, and I think I’m onto something. The secret is straining the liquid from the grated potatoes.
I began by combining grated potatoes with carrot, scallion, mushrooms, and parsley. Then I pressed out the water while I made biscuits. Here’s how: wire mesh strainer --> potato/veg --> clean kitchen towel --> glass mixing bowl = water dripping into sink.
My first batch came out delicious, but a little mushy in the middle with only a few crispy edges. I thought maybe the potato mixture was still a little too wet, so I spread it out on another clean, dry towel and laid yet another on top. Then I rolled up the towels together to squeeze out the remaining water.
Attempt number two showed marked progress. Once I placed the potatoes in the pan, with only a teaspoon of oil, I let them cook for 2 minutes each side, pressing down with a turner. The potatoes browned, but did not attain the crispiness I sought. After one more tweak to the cooking time (4 minutes each side + pressing), I was seeing and tasting near perfection: golden brownness, crispy texture, vibrant flavor, and a very happy boyfriend.
Waffle House, you and your hash browns no longer scare me. You’ve been kablammed!
Gentle readers, do you have any fabulous hash brown tips you’d like to share? Waffle House stories you need to get off your chest? The comments are all yours!
If this recipe tips your canoe, swim on over to:
Kablammed Hash Browns
2 russet potatoes, grated
1/2 cup carrot, grated
1/2 cup scallion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon safflower oil
1) Peel and grate potatoes; wash and carrots. Place grated veg in wire mesh strainer with kitchen towel on top. Place a heavy bowl on top of towel to press water out of potatoes and carrots. Allow to strain for 10-15 minutes, or while you do other chopping.
2) Chop scallions, mushrooms, and parsley and combine in large mixing bowl. Remove grated potato and carrot from strainer and spread out on clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Roll up to strain out any remaining water. Combine with vegetables in bowl and mix well.
3) Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. Spoon 1/2-cup portions of potato mixture into pan and shape into patties OR spread all potato mixture into one thin layer. Press with spatula and allow to brown on one side, 3-4 minutes. When potatoes are crispy, carefully flip and brown other side, 3-4 minutes.
4) Serve immediately with eggs or tofu scamble, grits, and biscuits and pucker up for some smooches.
Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
73 calories, .76g fat, 1.75g fiber, 2.3g protein, $.72
2 medium russet potatoes: 336 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 10g protein, $0.86
1/2 cup carrot: 26 calories, 0g fat, 2g fiber, 0.5g protein, $0.16
1/2 cup scallions: 16 calories, 0g fat, 1.5g fiber, 1g protein, $0.16
1 cup crimini mushroom: 20 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 2g protein, $2.99
2 tablespoons fresh parsley: 2.6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.14
1 teaspoon safflower oil: 39.6 calories, 4.62g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.03
TOTALS: 440 calories, 4.6g fat, 10.5g fiber, 13.5g protein, $4.34
PER SERVING (TOTALS/2): 73 calories, .76g fat, 1.75g fiber, 2.3g protein, $.72