Recipe: Cast Iron Breakfast Hashbrowns

I’ve eaten breakfast in many places around the world, and its fair to say that anywhere you wake up to a meal that place probaby has it’s own style of morning eats that defines it as a culture.

At home, I tend to spread a little jam on some toasted slices of sourdough bread and munch on that while I sip my fresh brewed coffee.

But I wouldn’t exactly call my toast a ”Canadian Style” breakfast.

I’ve long had an affinity for breakfast as a meal. In my previous job my boss liked to host Friday morning meetings at the local greasy spoon diner with a plate of runny-yolk eggs. Our running crew is affectionately named the “Breakfast Run Club” because we often meet outside a breakfast place for a run followed by a morning meal. I’ll be the first to wake while camping specifically to get a start on a hearty skillet-fried breakfast. And lacking a better option for another meal of the day, I’m happy to repeat breakfast for lunch, dinner, supper, or even an evening snack.

But what defines a ”Canadian Breakfast” is tough to say.

The local fast food chain A&W, famous for their root beer and hamburgers, jumped with both feet into the breakfast market about a decade or so ago and differentiated themselves from the ‘egg on a muffin’ chains by serving a fresh, plated, ”Canadian” breakfast, probably based off of any of those greasy spoon places I mentioned previously. I’ve indulged more times than I care to admit, and it’s probably as close as I can come to appropriately pinning down a breakfast that defines the country culturally.

What’s on that plate?

A pair of eggs (any style), two slices of toast, some crispy bacon strips, a duo of breakfast sausages, a pair of fresh tomato slices, and a patty of hashbrown.

Any of those items listed are foods I’d claim a confident level of skill to make… except one.

The hashbrown, as much as it’s just fried potato is finicky to get right at 7am.

the ingredients

1 or 2 medium potatoes, grated
half a small onion, chopped or grated
1 egg
15ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

the make

The grated potato needs to be washed (to rinse out a lot of the starch) in cold water and then patted dry on a towel. The egg and oil need to be beaten lightly together. Then all the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl until a thick and even potato slurry of a sort is ready to cook.

On a hot cast iron grill, I like to use my large flat top plancha, spread the mixture into a large flat slab, no thicker than a pancake.

When the edges of the beast start to brown and crisp, you can portion it into more managable chunks with the edge of your metal spatula, then flip and grill the other side until both sides are crisp and the interior is cooked to your desired doneness.

The result is kind of fried mat of potato. It’s not much of anything like the industrially shaped discs of deep fried starch madness that one would get at a local fast food place, but it’s very much like the hash served at some of my favourite greasy spoons.

Tho as much as I can cook eggs to nearly any style and have master techniques for near-perfect bacon (and shouldn’t even need to mention the almost flawless sourdough loaves I’ve been baking lately) the perfect hashbrown is still not quite on my list of confident culinary skills. I suppose if I want to be a Canadian breakfast master, I’d better fix that.

Strip this Pan, Part Four

In short, and to conclude this short series of posts, the effort to strip and re-season the twenty-inch reversible grill was a modest success.

In the end, it was a combination of elbow grease and chemical oven cleaner that seemed to net me the best result of the multiple methods I tried.

I found that using a wire brush to score the surface of the old seasoning then applying a liberal dose of chemical cleaner overnight allowed the bare pan to be the most easily exposed.

Four cycles of re-seasoning later in the oven and I tried grilling up a batch of chocolate chip pancakes this morning. That was definitely a success.

As far as cost goes… alas between buying scouring pads, a wire brush set for my drill, and a can of oven cleaner, I probably spent close to thirty bucks to achieve what I did here. A cycle of the self-cleaning oven is not free either, but it wouldn’t have been thirty bucks.

In then end and all that said though, having tried all these alternative methods to remove the old seasoning, I think I might just go back to the self-cleaning oven method next time. Simple. Effective. And not so nearly smelly, painful, or expensive.

Strip this Pan, Part Three

Time being limited and linear, it’s taken me over a month to get around to tackling the twenty-inch reversible grill reseasoning project.

For reference, check out parts one and two wherein I presented my options to deal with the pitting that was destroying the five-year-old seasoned surface of my Saturday morning pancake flattop and tried the least aggressive way I had read about, soaking in vinegar, to strip the seasoning. Spoiler alert, vinegar didn’t work.

A couple days ago I went to the store and picked up a can of oven cleaner, a pack of abrasive dish cleaning pads, a roll of industrial strength paper towel, and a pack of steel brush wheels for my power drill.

What I’ve read online (since I’ve never stripped a pan this way before) was that spray on oven cleaner is an agressive chemical approach to degrading the seasoning of the pan enough that you can pretty much just wipe it off.

It wasn’t quite that simple, of course.

The instructions I had read told me to coat the surface in oven cleaner, wrap in a plastic bag, and wait twenty-four hours.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Furstratingly, a day later, I had a pan with some very clean, but still very firmly attached, seasoning.

Back to the drawing board.

Yesterday afternoon I rinsed off the pan, and switched over to the drill and wire brush method. Forty-five minutes of shoulder aching, noisy, smelly, whirring away on the pan, I had stipped about half of the top surface down to bare iron.

To be honest, I’ve not been too worried about the edges or the reverse side. The bottom of this pan is a ridged grill pan that I think we’ve used less than five times since we bought this piece. It’s not that it isn’t useful, it’s just that this grill is pretty much my dedicated pancake pan and the smooth side gets used weekly and so consequently the smooth side is the side that I care about.

But even given that I only cared about the top half of the pan, a day plus forty five minutes of neighbourly-annoying outdoor cast iron maintenance had only got me part way to what I’d accomplished pretty much passively when I reseasoned this years ago by the self-cleaning oven method. That method, of course, has it’s risks not the least of which is the risk of the pan cracking in extreme heat, but with a crick in my back and a small bit of flaking seasoning embedded under my bleeding thumbnail (did I mention that part?) I was starting to reconsider the risk versus reward calculation.

Then I had a bit of an idea … mostly because I was tired and it was starting to get dark out

I lightly burred down the rest of the still-seasoned parts of the cooking surface with the steel wire brush, then resprayed with oven cleaner before stuffing it back in the bag and stowing it once again for an overnight.

This morning the results of the combined method had seemed to have paid off respectably well.

Over the pan where I had scuffed the surface of the seasoning, the chemical oven cleaner had been able to get under and into the old seasoning. It was able to do the job I had expected a day earlier. The bulk of the old seasoning flaked off and easily washed away with a little bit of light scouring from a dish pad.

I was able to grind the remaining stubborn specks off with the drill setup, wash it down really well, dry it up, and …

… as I write this post the pan is in the oven baking on a first coat of bacon grease seasoning.

I’ll spend the day doing multiple coats of a new seasoning layer, getting it back up to a surface that I can attempt some pancakes on in the coming week, and of course, report back with how it all turned out!

And hopefully part four is the part where I tell you how great it all turned out … and not me resorting to the self-cleaning oven again.

Strip This Pan, Part Two

I know that with a name like “the cast iron guy” you might expect that I’m some kind of guru in cast iron when in reality it as much about a philosophy of life that is expressed in the form and function of cast iron as much as a so-called cast iron expertise.

I write this as a caveat because often I post ideas that I’m as much interested in exploring more about or expanding my experience with and not so much sharing some deep knowledge of or advice in.

Like, say, recommendations for stripping a cast iron pan for reseasoning … with, say, vinegar.

Something that I have to report that as of my experience over the last twenty four hours did not work out at all for me.

I set up a shallow basin in the backyard.

I rested my twenty-inch cast iron grill in the basin.

I submerged the grill with a generous glug-glug-glug of multiple litres of 5% white vinegar.

I let it sit for sixteen hours.

The result? My pan was wet and smelled of vinegar, but there was no noticable breakdown of the seasoning let alone was it completely flaking off or otherwise dissolved. In fact, I would say all I accomplished was wasting about five bucks worth of vinegar. The pan after drying is unchanged from its soak in food-grade dilute acetic acid.

I suppose the allure of this idea that vinegar might have come from the notion that acids are bad for seasoning. We’re told to limit how much you might, say, cook with tomatoes (which are an acidic food) because they degrade your seasoning. A few years ago I made the mistake of leaving a bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a pan (someone else put the lid on and it got missed in clean up) and a couple days later the seasoning had degraded to the point where I needed to run it through the oven a few times.

Also, vinegar seems like one of the easier and/or cheaper methods of stripping a pan. No fancy chemicals cleaners or tools or long, energy-expensive trials in the oven: just a bit of solution from the cupboard.

It’s also suprising how many search results appear for this, too, complete with warning about how the pan might rust up as soon as you pull it from the vinegar bath.

I suppose, if I’m being generous to these content farmers, there are many vaguely worded bits of advice about using vinegar on cast iron and there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding between “cleaning” a pan and actually stripping the seasoning. It’s easy to assume it will work “as advertised” if you’ve never tried it for yourself.

Which I have now tried.

And which I’ll not be trying again, unless someone happens to point out some glaring error I may have made in my simplistic trial of (basically) soaking my pan in kitchen chemical overnight.

Bringing me back to my point of experience versus expertise: prior to this weekend I had no experience with vinegar and cast iron, whereas now I can confidently advise that I don’t recommend you bother with this method.