His voice was clear and compelling, and almost suspiciously confident even in what amounted to a dashed-off reply to a weekly e-blast:
"Essentially I grate a potato very sparingly into sizzling butter, leaving lots of space in the pan, salt it, and then let it connect itself into a latticework as it dehydrates. The starch is like glue and the result is pure potato flavor. Most amazing is how it can be flipped as one giant hash brown snowflake."
I should have responded. But I wavered. For one thing, he didn't exactly write to me—he did the thing that < no-reply > newsletters have been training us for years not to do.
Shop the Story
But I also didn't know how to tell him, after watching a video of him making his hash browns on eHow.com, that not only did I not believe his recipe was genius, I didn't understand it at all. Watch below till the end and you'll see that his skillet of hash browns and butter yields so little that it looks like a lark, a garnish at best. I should have told him as much—he probably would have enjoyed the challenge, and then flamed the potatoes out of me.
When I finally tried the Ozersky way years later, I realized, of course, that he'd been right. His method is completely genius, for all the reasons he says. The hot little shards of hash browns are all crisp, with no pale, lifeless middles. Or, as Ozersky described them in Esquire in 2014: "In the center, unspoiled and innocent, but also passionless and inert, are some untouched refugees that somehow avoided being browned. I try to keep my consumption of these to a minimum, because, really, what's the point?"
His technique is brilliant in its absence of technique: There's no par-cooking or salting or squeezing or clarifying of butter or finishing in the oven. And there's very little waiting for gratification. The best hash browns really were this easy the whole damn time.
"These hash browns are austere and exquisite, something from a tasting menu at the diner of the gods," he wrote, in describing why he'd want them to be his last meal for the blog My Last Supper. "But that’s only if you are making them by yourself."
But you can, as I found out, make more of them at once than he does in the eHow video—enough for a healthy single serving, as long as you're still leaving plenty of gaps for the steam to escape. (In fact, they'll flip more cleanly, the more places the shreds intersect.)
And since they take all of 3 minutes from full potato to lacy latke, you can swiftly whip up another pan for a friend. Ozersky probably would have filled out the skillet a tad more himself, had he not been busy narrating his process and cracking jokes about Teflon. In hindsight, I'm glad he didn't.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by Bobbi Lin
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."