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Potato Pancakes vs. Hashbrowns

I love both of them, but I don't quite understand the difference between potato pancakes and hashbrowns. My guess is that hashbrowns tend to be softer and chunkier, and potato pancakes tend to be thin and crispy. But then again, I've had potato pancakes that taste like hashbrowns, and hashbrowns that taste like potato pancakes. Can anyone clarify this for me?
My next question is for recipes... are eggs really needed in either? What about flour or matzo meal? I've seen a lot of recipes that have you soak the potatoes in water to get rid of the starches and then drain them, but in culinary school, one of the chefs freaked out when a fellow student did that, and he had them put the potatoes, unrinsed and undrained, into the pan (without any eggs--I believe she was making potato pancakes). My ideal pancake or hashbrown would be thin and crispy with just a hint of soft middle--do coarse shredded potatoes work better for this, or finely shredded? Thanks for your help!

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  1. Potato Pancakes and hasbrowns are almost totally different.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tamerlanenj

      Okay, well, thanks for the comment, but all you did was point out what I already admitted--I don't know the difference. Care to clue me in?

    2. I think hashbrowns are just potatoes and onions, while potato pancakes have a bit of egg and matzoh meal added to give them a little more heft. I'm also in the light and crispy (not thick and heavy) potato-pancake camp, so I like to shred my potatoes and onions coarsely and squeeze out all their excess liquid. Add an egg and a few tablespoons of matzoh meal, lots of salt and pepper, and fry in plenty of oil. Don't shred too much potato at once, as it gets gray and watery after standing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: dixieday2

        Do you feel the egg helps get the pancake crispy and thin? I'v used recipes that call for a beaten egg white as well, and those got really crispy...

      2. I would say that comparing potato pancakes to hashbrowns are like comparing a ground beef to a meatball.

        The hashbrowns are just potato and maybe onion cooked on a griddle/pan till browned and cooked through. Potato Pancakes have eggs and matzo meal/flour to bind it together and then are pan fried in a larger amount of oil.

        1. I never use flour or matzoh meal in my potato pancakes...just potatoes (with all liquid squeezed out), scallions, egg, salt & pepper. I find the egg is enough of a binder and this helps the potatoes get crispier.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JennS

            But the main idea is that potato pancakes aren't just potatoes shredded and fried and hash browns are (usually w/out onions when I get them at breakfast places in SF Bay Area). Whether or not the pancakes have matzoh or whatever in them.

          2. I usually add a little baking powder to my potato pancakes.

            1. Has browns are also (best) made with precooked potatoes - either leftovers or extras from making baked potatoes. ;)

              I wonder if the OP is thinking of the fast food/frozen food hash browns - a la McDonald's - which are indeed basically a form of potato pancake, but don't even vaguely resemble "normal" hash browns.

              6 Replies
              1. re: MikeG

                You took the words right out of my mouth, Mike. The only people who think that hash browns are a solid, pancake-like finger food are those who've only been exposed to those sold by McDonald's or McCain's.

                1. re: FlavoursGal

                  Betty Crocker sells a boxed mix called Hash Browns which are the shredded potatos.

                  1. re: FlavoursGal

                    Not true: Classic diner hashbrowns are shredded potatoes that are thrown on a grill in a pile, then mashed into a cake form -- no fillers added, but they do have a definite cohesiveness.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I agree - hash browns are shredded but then mashed into cake form, not served in loose shreds. The breakfast potatoes served "loose" would be home fries, in chunks.

                      1. re: JaneRI

                        To complicate things further, if you go to a classic steak house, hash browns are cubed!!

                        1. re: prunefeet

                          doesn't cubed make them "home fries"?
                          In NYC, home fries are much more common. The rest of the country appears to shred the papas, making hash browns.

                2. I think the confusion here stems from the fact that hash browns used to be looser and are now commonly served in a sort of cake. Almost like a potato pancake. I think it was McDonald's that started this! Hash browns are supposed to be loose not in a piece that you can pick up. Am I right?

                  Sorry MikeG, I didn't see you were making the same point...

                  1. Yes, I think you're right. Living here in NYC, I can't say I've ever been given anything like a "cake" except at McDonald's, but maybe elsewhere? Hash browns should "clump" together some, but except maybe for the last bit from a big pile that's been sitting on a grill for hours, they don't make a coherent "patty."

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MikeG

                      Not to mention McD's (and possibly other Fast Food places) deep fry the so-called hash browns.

                    2. PS: In case the OP is wondering what the hell all of us are talking about, THESE are what we're considering "hash browns." Pressing harding enough to turn them into a "pancake" is very much optional and not very desireable, IMNSHO.

                      http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

                      1. Further confusing the issue as Chanukah comes around are the bags of cheap, Kosher "potato pancakes" (latkes) in your grocer's freezer which are actually clones of McD's hash brown patties.

                        The perfect potato pancake is fried in oil, has an exterior similar to good hash browns--bits of potato shreds visible, crispy brown. The interior is a slightly mushy yellow (from the egg), with a smooth consistency you get from a batter.

                        Potato Pancake:
                        http://www.bagelboss.com/Merchant2/gr...

                        NOT a potato pancake:
                        http://www.kineretfoods.com/products/...

                        1. "Pancake" is the key word here-a pancake has a batter, a binder, to keep it together. Hash browns don't. So yes, you have to have eggs in a pancake. I've made them both with flour and without, and while I don't think it's necessary (and too much is definitely bad) I do like a tablespoon of flour in a batch of potato pancakes.

                          I wouldn't ever rinse the starch from potato pancakes but rinsing the starch (no need to soak, just rinse) from shredded potatos for hash browns helps to keep them from sticking to your pan.

                          But I can understand why the OP is confused-a lot of people do use the term "potato pancake" to describe a hash brown patty.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: christy319

                            Thinking about it more, I realize that some people think pancake=anything in a round, flat shape. But, to be a pancake, it needs a binder/batter. It's not about shape, it's about ingredients.

                          2. Here's my take...
                            I would say hash browns should have visible (and tastable) chunks or shreds of potatoes. As far as what other ingredients get cooked up with them and how done and crispy they are is all preference. In other words, you cannot make hash browns with leftover mashed taters.

                            But, you can make potato pancakes them lefotover mashed, but not necessarily. Again, if you add some onion, garlic, whatever - that's all preference, as would be the level of done-ness.

                            I prefer hash browns myself - shredded with a little onion, not too cakey, and crispy. But I also like home fries -which is a whole other discussion. But if you take this in order of the size of actual potato pieces, home fries would be largest, then hash browns, then potato pancakes - which I would have almost no discernable pieces (not sure if pieces is the correct term, but I think you get what I mean)

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Ace_Mclean

                              Real potato pancakes are made with shredded potato, NOT mashed. Mashed potato cakes are delish, but not potato pancakes in the true sense.

                              1. re: Ace_Mclean

                                You would think food pros would know better--Rachael Ray in her Vegas $40-A-Day, visiting a breakfast buffet, refers to a mix of potato cubes, onion and red & green pepper as "hash browns."

                              2. Re rinsing the potatoes - the idea is not to rinse, but to STRAIN the potatoes after shredding (over a fine strainer), then discard the liquid and add the potato starch that's fallen to the bottom of the bowl back into the shredded potatoes.

                                There are many people who enjoy their potato latkes made with ground potatoes rather than shredded. In my family, half like them this way, the other half the other way, so I usually make them both ways, on alternate days.

                                FYI, latkes should always have some grated onion, and lots of salt for flavour.

                                1. Most hash browns I had at diners and IHOP doesn't have onions. Just shredded potatoes.

                                  For latkes that are crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside you will need a nonstick frying pan, plenty of oil!, and shred your potatoes using the smaller hole disk of a cuisinart (or equivalent).

                                  Strain (not wash) the liquid from the potatoes after shredding (usually use 4-5 good size potato will do), add 1/2 onion that's finely diced, add 1 egg, salt & pepper and 1 TBSP of flour. Then you need to fry them at medium heat in plenty of oil. If you skimp on the oil it won't crisp up, and don't put too much of the egg mixture with the latkes in the frying pan or it'll be more like potato omelette. It takes time to fry them so that it's soft enough in the middle - don't use high heat or you'll have crispy latkes that's crunchy inside.

                                  I've tried using the coarser shredder, but the middle of the latke isn't tender when I do that.

                                  1. There seems to be a lot of regional / cultural / semantic differences going on here.

                                    Here's my West Coast take on it:
                                    -- HASH BROWNS are shredded pre-cooked potatoes (no onions or other additives) piled into a pan and pan-fried to brown and crisp the exteriors.
                                    -- POTATO PANCAKES are shredded raw potatoes, with or without a little onion, egg, and flour. They are spread out thin and pan-fried to a crispness.
                                    -- MASHED POTATO PATTIES are mashed potatoes made into patties and pan-fried to get a crisp exterior. Do not call these potato pancakes - they are just a way to use up leftovers.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                      Why would hash browns need to be made from pre-cooked potatoes? That's one way to do it, but it's a shortcut and isn't as good as when you start from raw shredded potato.

                                      1. re: christy319

                                        I agree. Homefries should be made from pre-cooked potatoes, but that's a whole other conversation.

                                        1. re: christy319

                                          It's a semantic thing as well as a taste thing. Cooked potatoes produce a different texture and flavor than pan-frying raw potatoes. Start with cooked spuds and call it hashbrowns. Start with shredded raw potatoes and call it potato pancakes.

                                          1. re: christy319

                                            Julia Child's recipe for potatoes galettes, which is basically hash browns formed into a pancake, calls for pre-cooked potatoes. The pre-cooking and subsequent cooling helps to be able to form the potatoes into a pancake. It's a binder, if you will. I like this method for hash browns, as I like my hash browns somewhat bound.

                                        2. I think that most here are using the term "potato pancake" to refer to latkes... Where I grew up (around a lot of Germans), a potato pancake is an actual pancake:

                                          http://market.treasureshidden.com/ima...

                                          No chunks or shreds. Latkes are (for my Russian Jewish family) shredded potatoes, onion and a little green onion bound with egg and potato starch. Hash browns are just grilled shredded potatoes.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: butterfly

                                            I've never had a latke, or even seen them on menus anywhere, so I can't speak to the comparison issue. The first potato pancake encounter I had was at a place near Palo Alto called "The German Beer Garden", and they accompanied bratwurst and red cabbage. I've had them at Shroeders in San Francisco, served with their sauerbraten. They seem to be a German restaurant thing.

                                          2. Concurrent thread, useful to this discussion. Hashbrowns.

                                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/285164

                                            1. Hashed browns are simply grated potatoes, grilled/fried until crispy.

                                              Potato pancakes are more like a pancake -- they have egg or an egg batter mixed in with the grated potato, so you end up with a result that is crispy on the outside but tender on the inside, and with a thicker, more pancake-like shape.

                                              They are different, but hopefully good ones will have a similar exterior.

                                              1. Thanks for all the input, everyone. Could someone please suggest a good ratio of potato to egg for a decent crispy potato pancake?

                                                1. Latkes (potato pancakes) are nothing like pancakes, and no, you NEVER EVER rinse them because it is the potato starch that makes them terrific. That said, take a bunch of russet potatoes, grate them (I use the fine side of a box grater), add grated onion (same side of the grater), salt, pepper, an egg (or two if you're using more than 3-5 pounds of potato), kosher salt, and pepper. A bit of flour vs. some matzo meal depends on your family: I've tried both, and like both. Mix well; fry; eat as soon as they come out of the pan.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Youffraita

                                                    We don't rinse them, but in my family, we soak the potatoes in water, wring them dry in a towel, and then recover the starch from the bottom of the bowl (it sinks to the bottom and is easy to add back in).

                                                    I've never heard of a latke being called a potato pancake. Where I grew up these terms were used for two completely different foods...

                                                    1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                      So that's what latkes look like! Rather chubby little things, aren't they. Not at all like thin, crisp potato pancakes with their lacy edges.

                                                      1. re: Sharuf

                                                        No, not all latkes look like that. The ones in our family are more of the nest variety.

                                                      2. re: tamerlanenj

                                                        Hey thanks for the nod, tamerlane. Glad you like them!

                                                        Nosher

                                                        NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                                                      3. I prefer potato pancakes hands down-sweet potato pancakes are delightful too-I've had these shredded--now I make very fine matzo meal pancakes right from the recipe on the box (Streitz) I believe--the secret is getting the egg whites fluffy and gently folding them into the mixture-

                                                        1. HASH BROWN -- HASHED -- a hash is something shredded or chopped up -e.g. cornbeef hash

                                                          PANCAKE -- PAN CAKE -- A cake made on a pan -- solid

                                                          1. I am even more confused now after a trip to the supermarket. Stocked side by side on the kosher food aisle are boxes of latkes and potato pancakes from the same manufacturer. When I looked at the ingredients list they are really the same, except the picture of the pancakes looked 'mushier' than the latkes.

                                                            Looking for more help, I searched my Joy of Cooking, and the recipe for potato pancake is almost identical to the latkes that I made. On foodTV's website, here's what they said:

                                                            "Potato pancakes are made all over the world. And they have names as different as the people who make them. If the potato-cookers are Yiddish, the pancakes are latkes; if Italian, the pancakes are fritattas; if Spanish, the pancakes are tortillas, and if French the pancakes are criques. Other potato pancakes are made with cooked potatoes, such as American hash browns, Swiss roesti, and the French macaire. The Irish use both raw and cooked potatoes to make a potato pancake called boxty."

                                                            http://www2.foodtv.com/cooking101/qan...

                                                            The picture on wikipedia looked closest to what I made:
                                                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato_p...

                                                            For what its worth...

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: notmartha

                                                              Tortillas are not pancakes--that's just crazy.

                                                                1. re: notmartha

                                                                  Not so sure - I think of a Spanish tortilla as being more akin to a frittata than to a pancake.

                                                                  1. re: notmartha

                                                                    I live in Spain, so believe me, I know what a tortilla is. It's not a pancake.

                                                                    1. re: butterfly

                                                                      Neither is a frittata, for that matter.

                                                              1. I think the author is loosely grouping food that are cooked in a pan, is round and can be made using potato as a key ingredient as 'potato pancake'. Chinese scallion 'pancake' is nothing like an American breakfast pancake either.

                                                                Just as 'dumpling' can mean any stuffed pasta, and you can say that even though there's nothing remotely alike between a chinese version and a ravoli, and a pierogi, the _concept_ is similar.

                                                                I guess depending on how strongly you feel about a particular food, it can be a stretch. ;)

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: notmartha

                                                                  For me, a pancake should have some kind of flour or at the very least a homogenous kind of consistency. I wouldn't call the type of latke that my family makes a potato pancake. In fact, I've never heard any Jewish member of my family or community call them that.

                                                                  If someone feels the need to fit the Spanish tortilla (or fritatta) into an American food category, then it would clearly fall into the family of omelettes, not pancakes.

                                                                  http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortilla...

                                                                  I'm not aware of anything potato pancake-like or latka-like in Spanish cuisine. Here, fried potatoes are generally used to soak up the drippings of other flavors--usually meat, eggs or fish.

                                                                2. When I was in college, I used to make latkes every year around Chanukah (still do), even though I'm not Jewish. I was very gratified one year when people coming back from the Jewish student group's party said my latkes were better.

                                                                  Invariably (I went to school in Southern California, in a not-very-Jewish area) people would ask if there was any ketchup.

                                                                  1. crazy. i always thought potato pancakes were what apparently are latkes?
                                                                    shucks.