How To Make Diner-Style Home Fries

How To Make Diner-Style Home Fries

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Kelli Foster
May 17, 2016
(Image credit: Christine Han)

When heading out for breakfast or brunch, you've got a choice to make: Do you order something sweet, or opt for something savory? For me, it's a no-brainer — I go for the savory option every time. I'm in it purely for the home fries, and the only thing better than ordering this side at your favorite diner is making them at home exactly when you want them.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

The Hallmarks of Really Good Home Fries

My idea of really good home fries has been defined by a few local diners that I've been frequenting for years. Would I be right to say it's the same for you? One of the hallmarks that truly defines a good batch of this breakfast potato side dish is the texture. I'm talking about home fries that are slightly starchy, with just the right balance of a soft, creamy inside and crispy, crunchy exterior. And they don't have to be crispy on all sides; some pieces only have a single side that's developed this deep crispiness, while some pieces may have missed out altogether. Together these pieces result in the perfect amount of crunch. Call it a study in textures, if you will.

While the general flavor could be classified as mild (no need to overshadow the eggs and bacon), home fries should be well-seasoned and mixed with just a little bit of soft sautéed onions for extra flavor and texture. You'll pick up hints of smoked paprika, but mostly you'll see the way it lightly tints the cubed potatoes a pale shade of amber.

Choosing Your Potatoes

This step is a crucial one. The potatoes you use will determine the ultimate consistency and texture of your home fries. I like using mild and starchy Russets. Because of their high starch content, these spuds will cook up super soft and creamy. They also soak up butter and spices well, resulting in a super-flavorful final product. If cooked for a couple minutes too long, they do run the risk of getting a little crumbly — but that's okay, it gives them more of that crispy, diner-style appeal.

Steer clear of waxy potatoes like fingerlings, red, and new potatoes. While they work well in dishes where holding their shape is important (like potato salad), this variety isn't the best pick for home fries. Waxy potatoes don't break down the way starchy potatoes do during cooking. Instead they keep a more firm texture, never quite achieving that soft, creamy texture that make home fries so satisfying and amazing.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

Perfect Home Fries Require a Three-Step Cooking Process

There's a three-step cooking process to make these home fries your reality. Trust me — it's way less fussy than it sounds and will lead to the home fries of your dreams.

Step 1: Parboil for Soft, Creamy Insides

First you need to parboil the potatoes, which is a fancy way of saying that the cubed potatoes are added to a pot, covered with cold water, and cooked for just a couple minutes once the water comes to a boil. It's just enough to soften the potatoes without making them too soft or mushy. This is crucial for home fries with a creamy interior. You know they're finished when they are easily pierced with a fork.

Step 2: Cooking the Onions Separately

Just a little bit of soft diced onion is all you need when it comes to home fries. Because the cook time for the potatoes is considerably longer than onion requires, and especially since the potatoes don't get tossed around for quite some time, I prefer to cook the onion separately. Cooking the onion on its own ensures it gets sufficient cook time to become soft and fragrant, without giving it too much time that it burns. Tackle this step while the water for the potatoes works its way up to a boil.

Step 3: Sauté in Hot Oil for Crunchy Exteriors

Next, it's time to whip out a large skillet — preferably cast iron, if you have one, but if not, any large pan will get the job done. Place the potatoes in a single layer; don't overcrowd and be patient. Fair warning: Depending on the size of your skillet, you may have to tackle this step in batches. And if you have more potatoes than cat fit in a single layer, I advise that you do; it's the difference between super-crunchy potatoes and mushy ones.

Once the potatoes are in the pan, it's a waiting game. Give the potatoes and hot oil time to do their thing. When the potatoes have the chance to sear and fry in the oil-slicked pan, their bottoms will turn the coveted deep, crispy-brown of perfect home fries.

How To Make Home Fries

Serves 2 to 4

What You Need

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 3 medium or 2 large potatoes)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt
Pepper

Equipment
Cutting board
Chef's knife
Large saucepan
Colander
Large frying pan or large cast iron skillet
Measuring spoons
Wooden spoon

Instructions

  1. Cut the potatoes: Once the potatoes are washed and scrubbed well, cut into half-inch cubes.
  2. Add the potatoes to a pot and cover with water: Add the cubed potatoes to a large saucepan and cover with cold water to about one inch above the potatoes. Add a pinch of salt.
  3. Parboil the potatoes: With the saucepan uncovered, bring the water to a boil, then cook for an additional minute or two to parboil the potatoes.
  4. Cook the onions: While the water comes to a boil, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  5. Test the potatoes for doneness: To test the potatoes for doneness, stick the tip of a paring knife into a few of the potato cubes. The flesh should feel slightly firm, but softer and more tender than before cooking. The potatoes should not feel mushy.
  6. Drain the potatoes: Drain the potatoes in a colander, shake off any excess water, and cool for about 5 minutes.
  7. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet: Heat the remaining olive oil and butter in a wide cast iron pan or large skillet over medium heat.
  8. Add potatoes, season, and cook: When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with the oil. Spread the potatoes in a single layer across the bottom of the pan, working in batches if necessary. Cook the potatoes, without stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes, so the bottoms become nicely browned and crispy.
  9. Add cooked onions and spices: Add cooked onions, garlic powder, and paprika to the skillet and stir to combine.
  10. Serve immediately: Remove the pan from the heat and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  • If working in batches, add additional oil and butter to the pan for the second batch.
  • Home fries are best eaten immediately. However, you can store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a few days, and reheat on the stovetop. They won't be as crispy as when they were first cooked, but will certainly still be good.
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