Hash is one of my favorite things in the world – crispy, golden, perfectly pan-fried potatoes, tossed with lightly charred veggies and topped with melty cheese and a runny egg. It’s heaven on a plate – which is unfortunate, since getting there is so often hell, at least for me.
The crispy parts of the potatoes glue themselves irrevocably to the bottom of the pan, the veggies sog out whatever crisp the potato has managed to retain, and the whole thing takes forever to cook.
So instead of tying myself to a pan in the morning, I turned to the oven – and sheet pan breakfast hash was born.
Oven-roasted potatoes are good, excellent even, but they’re not what I want from a hash. They’re too often pallid, with tough, dried-out exteriors and interiors that lean more creamy than fluffy. And while an oven potato is never going to quite equal the french-fry-like platonic ideal of something shallow fried, we can certainly get a lot closer than that.
Choosing the right potato
Broadly speaking, potatoes fall into three categories: Waxy, mealy, and all-purpose. Waxy potatoes, like Red Bliss or fingerlings, are high in moisture but low in starch, which means they hold their shape and have an insanely creamy texture after cooking – though they don’t break down well, which makes them a poor choice for mashing. They’re a great choice for any application that requires boiling: potato salads, smashed crispy potatoes, or gratins.
All-purpose potatoes, like Yukon Golds, sit somewhere in the middle. They have balanced starch and moisture content, and so can handle just about anything. When cooked, they’re creamier than a mealy potato but fluffier than a waxy one – making them my potato of choice for mashing.
Mealy potatoes (also called starchy potatoes or floury potatoes), like Russets and Idahos, are on the opposite end of the spectrum from waxy. They are low in moisture but high in starch, and tend to fluff up when cooked. This means they don’t hold their shape well after cooking, but all that extra starch means that they crisp up beautifully – mealy potatoes are the restaurant pick for french fries and latkes.
Because I want as crispy a result as possible (and because I accidentally ordered 10 pounds of them in my last grocery delivery), I chose Russets.
Crispy potatoes – with science!
Anyone who has ever made french fries from scratch knows that the secret to crispy outsides and fluffy insides is double frying. Essentially, the first fry builds up a thick layer of dehydrated, gelatinized starch molecules, while the second fry drives out any remaining moisture and browns that starchy shell.
And while that technique doesn’t quite work in the oven, we can certainly borrow some of the theory.
The goal is to find a way to build up a layer of dehydrated, gelatinized starch on the outside of the potato. Most recipes for oven-roasted potatoes recommend par-boiling, sometimes in vinegar-spiked water, sometimes with a pinch or two of baking soda.
The vinegar-spiked water helps the potato keep its shape as the outer layer cooks – pectin, the molecule that is responsible for “gluing” the potato cells together, breaks down more slowly in the presence of acid. In contrast, the baking soda, a base, encourages the outer layer of the potato to fall apart – which gives the gelatinized starch layer more surface area to crisp up and brown. I didn’t want to do either.
I’m lazy, and I’m not going to wash a pot I don’t really need to use in the first place.
In order to gelatinize starch, all you have to do is expose it to water and heat. And I can get both of those things in the microwave.
The microwave essentially boils the water already inside of the potatoes, heating it enough to swell and burst the starch granules. As the microwave continues to work, it drives the moisture out of the surface layer of the potato. (Contrary to popular belief, microwaves cook food from the outside in, just like everything else.)
Boom. Dry, gelatinized starch.
Is it as robust as the layer produced by boiling? Perhaps not. But I’ll trade a few thousandths of an inch worth of crust for one less pot to wash.
Preheat your sheet pan
Just because we’re making sheet pan breakfast hash doesn’t mean we have to throw everything we know about making hash on the stovetop out the window.
Preheating your pan on the stove does more than just save you time. It kick-starts browning by pushing your food into the ideal temperature range for the Maillard reaction more quickly, and it helps prevent sticking.
Under a microscope, the surface of your pan isn’t smooth – it’s full of peaks and valleys and crevices that want nothing more than bond chemically with your food. Oil does a little to smooth out those peaks and valleys – but that’s only so helpful. What we want to do is get the oil very hot so that it vaporizes the water on the surface of the food the second it touches the hot pan. The food will then “float” above the surface of the pan on a microscopically thin layer of steam – preventing the metal of the pan from bonding to the food and causing it to stick.
You can do the same thing in the oven. We oil the food instead of the pan, of course, but the principle is the same. The oil fills in the cracks, gets hot, and then superheats the water that remains on the surface of the potato – keeping it from sticking, and kicking off the browning reactions much sooner.
Hash it out
So far, all we’ve done is talk about potatoes – which makes sense, because crispy potatoes are the heart and soul of a breakfast hash. But a hash is not a hash without extras.
So let’s talk veggies.
I chose onions and bell peppers because that’s the hash combination I grew up ordering on family excursions to Crescent Moon, our local diner, but literally anything works. The key is to cut it small enough that it will cook through in 15ish minutes – which means small-bite-size for most things that aren’t root vegetables.
The other key is not to crowd the pan.
Vegetables contain a metric ton of moisture, relatively speaking, and if we don’t give them enough space to evaporate that water properly, they can and will sog out the crispy potato crusts we’ve worked so hard to build.
My rule of thumb is to put no more than two servings worth of hash onto a single sheet pan. If I need to make more, I’ll cook the potatoes by themselves on one sheet tray, and the veggies on another and toss them together right before serving.
Top it off
I always finish my sheet pan breakfast hash with a runny-yolked or softly scrambled egg and a shower of cheddar cheese.
The cheddar is oddly important here. As I’ve been testing this recipe, Jackson and I have tried it with a bunch of the cheese ends from my drawer – Colby, Monterey Jack, mozzarella – and all tasted a little flat. I don’t know what it is – extra salt or funk from age or sharpness – but the cheddar cheese plays really well off of the rest of the hash and turns it into something much greater than the sum of its parts.
A decadent, perfectly spiced pile of crispy potatoes, threaded through with golden onions and sweet roasted peppers and topped with melty cheese – the perfect thing to drag through a runny egg yolk on a Saturday morning, maybe with a little sausage on the side.
And the best part? I spent most of my time making it curled up on the couch nursing my mug of tea, not hunched over a hot stove, desperately trying to chip potatoes out of the bottom of my favorite skillet.
- Jampel, Sarah. “WTF is a “Waxy” Potato?” Bon Appetit, 12 September 2019, https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-is-a-waxy-potato
- Lopez-Alt, J. Kenji. “Perfect Thin and Crispy French Fries Recipe.” Serious Eats, 6 April 2020, https://www.seriouseats.com/perfect-french-fries-recipe#toc-the-chemistry-of-the-crispiest-french-fries
- Reeve, Roger M. “Pectin and starch in preheating firming and final texture of potato products.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 20, no. 6, 1972, pp. 1282, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf60184a031
- “Why does food stick to stainless steel surfaces.” Scienceofcooking.com, https://www.scienceofcooking.com/why_food_sticks.htm
Sheet pan breakfast hash
Serves: 2 Time: about 45 minutes Source: The Eighth Street Mess
This hash is an excellent way to use up odds and ends of old vegetables in your crisper drawer – don’t feel limited to just bell pepper and onion! Basically anything goes, as long as it’s cut small enough to cook through in 15-20 minutes.
I find that starchy potatoes, such as Russets, work the best in this recipe. You can get decent results with an all-purpose potato, like a Yukon Gold, but I would avoid purely waxy varieties, like Red Bliss or fingerings – they don’t contain enough starch to crisp up properly, and end up with an unpleasant, dried-out skin.
I call for bog-standard American chili powder, which is technically a blend of a bunch of different powdered chiles. If you’d prefer to use something a little more single-origin, like chipotle or ancho powder, you might want to cut the total quantity back by a quarter of a teaspoon. They tend to be a little stronger and can overwhelm the natural flavor of the potatoes.
If you would like to double this recipe, cook it on two sheet pans – either one recipe per pan, or with the potatoes and other vegetables separate. Putting everything onto one pan at that scale will cause the potatoes to steam and they will lose their crunchy edges.
- 1 lb russet potatoes, scrubbed well and cut into bite-size chunks
- 1 1/2 tablespoons melted bacon fat (or olive oil, if you want this fully vegetarian)
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic, or garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips about 1/4 inch wide and 2 inches long
- 1/2 red onion, sliced parallel to the root end 1/8 inch thick
- 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 scallions, sliced thin
- 3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 eggs, fried, poached, or scrambled – whichever you like best!
Place a heavy, rimmed baking sheet inside your oven, then preheat the whole thing to 450°F.
Place the scrubbed and cut potatoes in a large, microwave-safe bowl and cover with a plate. Microwave on high for 5 minutes (A quick note on timing: My microwave puts out 1000 watts on high power. If yours makes more or less, you may need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If you’re not sure how powerful your microwave is, there should be a sticker on the inside of the door that lists the wattage). When the potatoes come out, they should be firm, almost raw, and will feel sticky to the touch once they’ve cooled slightly. Toss them around in the bowl a bit – you want to release as much of the steam as you can.
While your potatoes are cooking, stir the chili powder, paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder and thyme into the melted bacon fat. Set that aside for now.
Once the potatoes are done, toss or stir them vigorously to help them release steam – keep going until you can no longer see it pouring out of the bowl. Once things have cooled a bit, drizzle the fat/spice mixture over the potatoes and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and black pepper, and toss once more.
Spread your seasoned potatoes into a single layer on the preheated sheet pan, and allow them to roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, you can check a few potatoes to see if they release easily from the sheet pan – if they don’t, put them back in the oven for 5 minutes or so until everything flips freely.
Meanwhile, toss the bell peppers and onions with the olive oil in the same bowl you used for the potatoes, and season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Toss your potatoes around on the baking sheet a bit before adding your bell peppers and onions to the sheet pan in a single layer. Return the pan to the oven and roast another 15 minutes. Again, check the potatoes to see if they’ve released from the sheet pan, and give them another 5 minutes if they haven’t.
At this point, your potatoes should be nicely browned and crisp, and your veggies should be tender and starting to pick up a little color on the bottom where they’ve been touching the sheet pan. Take the pan out of the oven and give it one more good toss to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
Dose some hash onto a plate, then top with cheddar cheese and your egg, in that order. By trapping the cheese between the hot potatoes and the hot egg, we can make sure it all melts by the time it gets to the table.
Sprinkle on a few scallions and enjoy!
This is one of those meals that is best the first day, but will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator in an airtight container. As tempting as the microwave is, it will absolutely sog out your potatoes. It is best to reheat in the oven – pop it in at 350°F until the potatoes are completely warm through, about 15-20 minutes.
I don’t recommend freezing your sheet pan breakfast hash – the potatoes would probably be fine, but the vegetables will turn to mush when you defrost them.