I’ve got an Irish friend who for the longest time didn’t eat anything but brown and white food (I’m sure you know the type): fried chicken, steak, cheeseburgers, white bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, potatoes in all forms, etc. He’s since evolved to appreciate the odd orange food and has even forayed into the realm of green recently (baby steps), but brown and white are still where his heart lies. This is the dish I created for his birthday one year in the heyday of his brown era. It’s essentially a cross between a steak house–style hash brown—that is, a potato cake made by pressing boiled potatoes into a skillet, with some onions for good measure, and then frying—and mashed potatoes. It starts off like normal steak house hash browns, but rather than simply frying the mass of potatoes just once, you let the whole thing cook until it’s almost burnt, saving it at the last minute by breaking up the crust and folding it into the center, then repeat the process two more times.
What you end up with is a pile of creamy, textured potatoes riddled throughout with sweet caramelized onions and intense browned flavors from the repeated crisping. They are not like any other potatoes you’ve ever had, I promise. (I mean that in a good way.)
SERVES 4 TO 6
2½ pounds russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Season generously with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until the potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, 8 to 10 minutes; a cake tester or fork should pierce the potatoes with no effort. Drain the potatoes, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.
2. Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until the butter melts. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to the bowl with the potatoes, leaving the fat in the skillet. Fold the potatoes and onions together and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and heat over high heat, swirling until the foaming subsides and the butter starts to brown. Add the potato mixture to the skillet and press down with a silicone spatula until an even cake is formed. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, shaking the pan gently every minute or so, until the bottom is completely browned and verging on charred, about 5 minutes. Use the spatula to lift and flip the potatoes in sections, slicing and folding to incorporate the browned sections into the interior. Press the cake into the skillet again and repeat the browning and folding steps two or more times: you should end up with a potato cake that is riddled with crisp bits of potato and sweet onions.
4. Push the potatoes to one side, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and melt it. Then lift the potatoes over the butter and spread and press into an even layer. Cook until the cake is completely crisp on the bottom, about 5 minutes, shaking the skillet every minute or so to prevent sticking. Remove the skillet from the heat and place an inverted plate over the top. Carefully flip the potatoes out onto the plate, so that the crisp side is facing up, and serve (or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve).