When my colleague Matt Duckor first proposed a Food Fight pitting home fries against hash browns, I have to admit I hesitated. Even though I'm a diehard fan of home fries, I wasn't sure whether I could prove my point in public. After all, hash browns - Matt's pick - are shredded potatoes, fried in boatloads of oil until super-crispy. Home fries are a harder sell: Soft chunks of cooked potato, pan-fried with onions and maybe peppers until golden brown outside and tender within.
Wait a minute. Did I just sell you on home fries already? If not, here goes:
Hash browns are nothing more than breakfast French fries, all smooshed together into a cluster. They pander to your most primitive fast-food urges. Home fries, on the other hand, deliver an array of potato textures: Crunchy slabs of golden-brown exterior plus floury, tender interior. Not to mention caramelized bits of onion (and maybe even tender pieces of sautéed green pepper).
Order home fries, and you won't just get a plate of potatoes. You'll get those caramelized onions and maybe peppers that I mentioned above. Hash browns tend to be a simple combo of fat, potato, and salt (if you're lucky). Why choose a breakfast potato that rests on its laurels? Home fries try harder.
Like toast, breakfast potatoes exist to sop up the delicious runny yolks in your fried eggs. So why are hash browns so bad at it? The crispy, shellacked exterior repels the buttery yolk rather than absorbing it like (you guessed it) home fries do. Try mopping up your eggs with a forkful of hash browns. Can't. Do it.
Ok, I might be overstating things a bit. But hash browns are usually fried in way more oil, and that hot oil has a tendency to splatter right onto your skin. Think you're safe once the hash browns leave the skillet? Think again. All those sharp, thorny bits of hard shredded potato can tear up the roof of your mouth like an edible Brillo pad. Why risk it? It's best to stick with the tastier, less dangerous breakfast potatoes. Hash browns will never do you wrong.