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Dec 4, 2000 11:38 AM

Why won't my potatoes brown?

  • j

Why, oh why, won't my "skillet potatoes" brown?

I tried ...

* dicing them into tiny pieces (they turn into mush)
* boiling them first until just tender (they are cooked more quickly, but do not brown)
* medium heat (took too long for potatoes to get soft)
* high heat (seemed better, but had to remove them from heat when some started to burn and stick -- to a non-stick pan)
* just butter
* just oil
* butter and oil

Is it -- as I'm beginning to think -- my !@#*$!)@$ Calphalon non-stick skillet? My hideous underpowered electric burner? My lack of skill/knowledge/talent/grace?

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  1. Potatoes will brown in a non-stick pan. I don't know about specific finishes, but I use SilverStone and CeramiGuard professional skillets (cheap, from the local restaurant store.) Some suggestions:

    1. Don't try to parboil them first. That really doesn't work at all, and doesn't save any time like you might expect it to.

    2. Use half margarine, half vegetable oil (and use enough to cover the bottom of the pan well - if you don't use enough, the potatoes end up kind of brown but unpleasantly dry.) Heat the pan and oil on medium-high (I use the '7' setting on my range, and the big burner) while you get the potatoes ready.

    3. Start with the lid mostly (but not completely) covering the pan. If the lid covers the pan completely, you'll trap too much moisture and end up with boiled potatoes. When about half done, take off the lid entirely to get some real brown going, and don't turn them too often.

    4. The easiest potato variety to brown is Yukon Gold. They cook very quickly, too.

    Now unrelated, here is a recipe I made up and use a lot (which I dubbed Shake and Bake Potatoes, but don't spread that around as I don't own that particular trademark:)

    Cut up washed, unpeeled potatoes into fairly large chunks (maybe an inch square.) Put them into a big bowl and dump in flour to coat well (even excessively) and add a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Then, add whatever spices you like: I add lemon pepper, salt, cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and chili powder. Pour enough oil into a 13x9x2 cake-type pan or roaster to cover the bottom well. Dump in the potatoes, in a single layer if possible, put in a 425 degree oven (or whatever temperature it's already on - anything within reason works fine) and let them cook until the tops start to brown (maybe 20 minutes.) Stir them around with a spatula to get oil on all of the remaining floured surfaces and let cook awhile longer until crusty (another 20 minutes maybe.) Believe it or not, they don't stick to the pan.

    I make these all the time: with cookout food, barbeque, and about anything else. Everyone who has ever eaten them finishes off whatever quantity I've made (I've done almost 10 pound of potatoes at a time, using multiple pans!) Once I was in a hurry and started them at 500 degrees and forgot to drop the temp. They were black and still were a big hit when I brought them to a potluck - people called them "blackened potatoes" like they were a new food find. They were excellent, I must admit.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Tim
      Leslie Brenner

      I've also had good results with all of the following: olive oil, clarified butter, a combination of the two, and duck fat. It's also important to let the potatoes sit on the fat long enough before moving them--give them a chance to brown.

      1. re: Leslie Brenner

        lots of good suggestions, and I particularly agree with Leslie - you have to let the potato sit still in the fat long enough for it to form the brown crust.

        First, the potato surface should be dry - try parboiling in the skin (but not til the pot is mush, it should still be fully firm)letting the potato cool, then peeling and cutting into cubes. The less water on the surface, the faster it will start to fry.

        The pan must be fully hot before the fat goes in, and the fat should be really hot (not quite smoking) before the potatoes go in. The person who said not to crowd the pieces in the pan is right.

        Any sort of fat can be used, but the animal fats with more solids and lower smoking temps may brown faster. And the more flavorful fats add their flavors.
        Once again, make sure the pan and oil are fully hot before the pots go in.

        Flip the potatoes around a bit so they are coated with the grease, then let them lie and cook (med-high heat on my gas stove) until they are golden on one side before flipping, then wait a while more and flip again, etc.

        You can partly cover pan with a lid, I usually dont.
        I think firmer potatoes work better than the mealy, loooser textured idahos - new potatoes, yukon gold, all purpose maine, california whites, red waxy potatoes etc etc. all brown fine. Just dont start your frying with overboiled, soggy or falling apart potatoes or you will have a mess on your hands, even in an nonstick pan.

        Good luck!

        1. re: jen kalb

          I agree with Jen, (my husband is really the cook - and he really is FAMOUS in these parts for his pan-fried potatoes, and I don't like potatoes any other way, no kidding), except he doesn't parboil in the skin. Just peel, parboil, drain, ***put back in boiling pan and cover and shake for a minute so they DRY OUT***. Then in nicely seasoned (worth doing) CAST IRON SKILLET (we will swear by this part), get olive oil (or any oil, I suppose) nice and hot, cook on med. (we, too, are cursed with an electric stove). The other secret, besides the pan, is let cook forever on med. or low. Just get the potatoes going, then cook the rest of the meal. The potatoes can stay in the pan browning for an hour on low. I prefer Yukon Gold, but any boiling potatoes will do.

          1. re: DF
            Dan Silverman

            Many forces are at play in the potato filled skillet.
            forces of evil--
            oil/fat not hot enough
            pan not hot enough
            too many potatoes--aka the crowded pan
            wrong variety of potato
            too much moisture--the potato is too wet
            the watched pot never boils--tossing the potatoes
            in the pan too much

            forces of good--
            set heat to high
            preheat the pan
            add fat (whatever you fancy, really)
            heat just till smoking
            without crowding the pand add dry potatoes
            use something starchy--Idahos, Yukons, most fingerlings
            let the spuds cook for a bit before you move them around
            when you do stir them, avoid lifting the pan from the heating element

            These are just some thoughts on the browning of potatoes. As someone above me mentioned electric burners are not optimal heat sources, cast iron probably is a very good idea.

            1. re: Dan Silverman

              Forgot to mention that we do NOT put lid on skillet when browing the potatoes.

      2. re: Tim

        I do some things opposite the way Tim does, and that works, too. I make them several times a week, and they're really popular with the family.
        First, I always use a heavy nonstick pan (which is the only kind I own) and any kind of raw potatoes diced skin on (peel and boil potatoes at 6:30AM? Me?). I put the potatoes and olive oil, butter, bacon fat, whatever, in the pan, put on high heat, stirring when you walk by the stove, until they are almost as brown as you want them. If they absorb all the fat at any point add some more. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium until they are tender. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and ground or crushed red pepper.

      3. Might be the wrong kind of potato. Different kinds have different textures and respond differently to heat.

        1. j
          Jason Perlow

          get a cast iron skillet. And use an oil with a high smoking point or a combo of butter and oil.

          Electric burners are fine for bringing water to a boil fast but they suck for heat.

          There also the issue of what kind of potatoes you are using. Dont use new potatoes. Use regular idahoes or small white potatoes.

          1. The single most importnat thing here is that you don't put too many potato pieces in the pan at once. (If you do you will be steaming more than sauteeing.
            Try doing them in batches...also, since you are using an electric top try preheat the pan for a while to make sure it is really hot...there is no reason that potatoes shouldn't brown.

            1. Browning is the sugars in the potatoes caramelizing, and some spuds have more sugar...generally, mealy type spuds, like Russets, have more sugars that waxy types...Yukons are a waxy-mealy (or mealy-waxy) hybrid.

              My preferred technique (and it makes really good homefires) is to use raw Russets cut into small (1/4") dice...ease them (expect some oil splatter) into hot oil (I use a cooking grade of olive oil...high smoke point), but don't crowd them too much, stir to coat with oil, then let them sit for a several minutes until a nice crust forms. Then turn and repeat, etc, can take 20 minutes or so to get them cooked through, and cast iron works better than anything else.