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I was at an oversized-omelet, bottomless-coffee, need-food-now kind of diner with friends. We ordered just that. Spinach-feta for one, jalapeño-cheddar for another. Then, the big decision: Toast or hash browns or home fries? our server asked. Except, wait. Aren’t those last two the same? Which is which? And which do I want? Could we, you know, have a few more minutes? We need to sort this out.
According to Merriam-Webster, hash browns are: “boiled potatoes that have been diced or shredded, mixed with chopped onions and shortening, and fried usually until they form a browned cake—called also hash brown potatoes, hashed brown potatoes, and hashed browns.” The diced or shredded part is where it gets tricky, since some differentiate hash browns from home fries using just that criteria: hash browns are shredded, home fries are diced. Let’s take a quick survey to see what’s most common. At this diner, like most fast-food spots, they were shredded, formed into an oval-shaped cake, and deep-fried. At Cook’s Illustrated, they are shredded and pan-fried in butter. At the New York Times, they are shredded and pan-fried in clarified butter. At Bon Appétit, same deal, just more broken up. At Serious Eats, they are shredded, too, but that’s specified in the title, as if this isn’t implied. And here at Food52, they’re shredded, too. Conclusion: While the technical definition may disagree, most assume that hash browns are shredded potatoes, either pancaked and deep-fried, or scattered and pan-fried.
Okay, Merriam-Webster, tell us more. Home fries are “potatoes that have usually been parboiled, sliced, and then fried—called also home fried potatoes.” Note that shredding is not listed as an option here. How curious. At the diner where I was, home fries were cubed potatoes, pan-fried with chopped peppers and onions—might I add, my favorite kind of home fries. Now let’s follow up with fellow publications: At Cook’s Illustrated, they are cubed and pan-fried with onions, but no peppers. At the New York Times, they’re called Breakfast Home Fries, and they’re—you won’t believe this—shredded! Meanwhile, another recipe on the site, for Sweet Potato Home Fries calls for cubed. At Bon Appétit, no dice! At Serious Eats, they’re cubed, pan-fried with onions and peppers. In that article, J. Kenji López-Alt writes:
The other day, I asked folks on Twitter what, in their minds, is the difference between home fries and potato hash. Hoo boy, was that a can of worms. Most of the debate seems to be about what constitutes hash. Is it shredded and fried potatoes? (Those are hash browns, not hash, to me.) Should hash be smashed and cooked on a flat top? (That does sound delicious, but more like a potato pancake to me.) Are home fries distinct, while hash is more cohesive? Are home fries potatoes only, while hash has other stuff mixed in? Are home fries disks, while hash is cubes? Et cetera, et cetera...We may never be able to satisfactorily come up with nomenclature that makes everyone happy here.
And here at Food52, we don’t have a whole lot of home fries recipes (read: bring ’em on). But, the one we do is a contest winner!
Conclusion: No one can seem to agree on what this term means either, but most lean toward cubed, pan-fried potatoes, with peppers and onions if you’re lucky. We also now have another term, potato hash, that threw itself into the mix, just to keep things, you know, extra confusing. Moral of the story is: Don’t assume that what you call hash browns or home fries is what your diner of the moment calls hash browns or home fries. Fried po-tay-to does not equal fried po-tah-to, you know?
Do you have a preference between hash browns and home fries? What do these terms mean to you? Let us know in the comments!