A lot of American recipes for this classic use diced potatoes, but grated are better. The type of potato does not really matter. An American diner would almost certainly cook hash browns in bacon fat, which gives them their distinctive flavour; however, butter or an oil-and-butter mixture work well.
Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate them into a bowl of cold water to remove excess starch, then spin them dry in a salad spinner or press in a colander to squeeze out as much liquid as you can before spreading on a cloth. The drier you can get them, the better.
Melt the butter with the oil in a heavy frying pan. Distribute the grated potato in an even layer and press down hard with a metal spatula to compress it into a cake. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Lower the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium and fry for a further 5 minutes.
Slide the spatula under the potato mass making sure it has not stuck. If you feel bullish about the whole thing, flip the cake over and cook the top for 5 minutes to crisp and brown. If a more wimpish mood holds sway, put a warmed plate upside down on the top and turn out the cake on it, browned base upwards.
Cut into wedges to serve.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.