Hash browns are a popular breakfast side dish made from shredded or grated potatoes. They are often pan fried into a delicious crispy potato cake, but they can also be frozen or freeze dried for longer term storage. Freezing and freeze drying are two methods that allow you to stock up on hash browns when prices are low or take advantage of seasonal produce. But how do these preservation methods work with hash browns? Can you successfully freeze dry hash browns at home? Read on for answers to these questions and more.
What are Hash Browns?
Hash browns are made from potatoes that have been shredded, grated or diced into small pieces then pan fried into a crispy potato patty or pancake. The most common types of potatoes used are russet or Yukon gold, but any starchy potato will work. The potatoes are shredded either by hand or with a box grater or food processor.
To make hash browns, the raw grated potatoes are pressed to remove excess moisture, then pan fried in oil or butter until browned and crispy on both sides. Onions, peppers, spices and herbs are sometimes added to the raw potato shreds for extra flavor. Hash browns make a delicious breakfast side to enjoy with eggs, breakfast meat and toast.
Key Features of Hash Browns:
- Made from shredded, grated or diced potatoes
- Pressed to remove moisture
- Pan fried until crispy and browned
- Often enhanced with onions, peppers or seasonings
- A staple breakfast side dish
Freezing Hash Browns
Freezing is one of the simplest ways to preserve foods like hash browns for several months. Here’s a closer look at how to freeze hash browns:
Steps for Freezing
- Start by shredding or grating washed, peeled potatoes. Allow the shreds to sit for 5-10 minutes to release excess moisture.
- Press or squeeze the potato shreds thoroughly to remove as much liquid as possible. This prevents ice crystals from forming and improves texture.
- Spread the pressed potato shreds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer until completely frozen, about 1-2 hours.
- Transfer the frozen hash browns to zip top freezer bags or airtight containers. Remove excess air before sealing.
- Label bags with the contents and date. Frozen hash browns will keep for 6-12 months at 0°F.
Tips for Freezing
- Use waxy, low moisture potato varieties like Yukon gold or red potatoes. Starchy russets work too.
- Avoid freezing raw potatoes shreds in large clumps, freeze in a single layer first.
- Season hash browns before freezing for ready-to-cook potato patties. Or freeze plain and season later.
- For crispiest results, thaw frozen hash browns in the fridge overnight before frying.
- Reheat frozen hash browns in a skillet over medium heat, adding a little oil or butter.
Freezing is an easy, cost-effective way to enjoy hash browns year round. With minimal effort, you can stock up on homemade shredded potatoes while in season or on sale.
Freeze Drying Hash Browns
Freeze drying, also known as lyophilization, is another long term food preservation method similar to freezing. However, there are some key differences between these two processes:
How Freeze Drying Works
- Food is first frozen to below -40°F, the temperature at which molecular mobility greatly slows down.
- Pressure is then reduced and a vacuum applied, allowing the frozen water in the food to sublimate directly from solid ice to water vapor.
- This sublimation process removes up to 98% of the water content from the food.
- Finally, the freeze dried food is sealed in an airtight container to prevent reabsorption of moisture.
Unlike freezing, freeze drying reduces moisture level dramatically, leaving behind a very lightweight, dry and porous product.
Benefits of Freeze Dried Foods
- Extremely long shelf life of 20-30 years
- Minimal nutrient loss compared to other methods
- Lightweight and compact for easy storage
- Original shape and texture is retained when rehydrated
- Water removal inhibits bacterial growth and spoilage
With its advantages for long term preservation, can hash browns be successfully freeze dried?
Can You Freeze Dry Hash Browns?
Hash browns can be freeze dried at home with the right equipment, but the process requires precision to achieve optimal results. Here are some key considerations:
Hash browns have a naturally high moisture content from the raw potatoes. To freeze dry successfully, the shredded potato pieces must first be blotted and pressed thoroughly to remove excess liquid. Starting freeze drying with very wet hash browns can lead to poor results.
Before loading into a freeze dryer, the hash browns should be spread in a thin layer and pre-frozen completely solid. This prevents them from melting or sticking together during the initial freezing stage of lyophilization.
Temperature and Pressure
A commercial freeze dryer can reach temperatures below -40°F and vacuum pressures low enough to freeze dry hash browns properly. Home units may not get cold enough or pull a strong enough vacuum for adequate moisture removal.
The shredded hash browns should be spread thinly and evenly on trays designed for a freeze dryer. Overcrowding trays can inhibit drying. Leaving space between pieces allows moisture to vaporize off the surface more easily.
Appearance and Texture
Freeze dried hash browns will have a lighter color and more porous, dried out appearance compared to frozen. When rehydrated, they should regain a potato-like texture but will be softer than fresh hash browns.
Steps for Freeze Drying Hash Browns at Home
To freeze dry hash browns at home, follow these steps:
- Wash, peel and shred potatoes into small hash brown sized pieces.
- Place shreds in a colander and press out as much liquid as possible, until shreds are fairly dry to the touch.
- Line trays with parchment paper and spread into a thin 1/2 inch layer. Avoid overcrowding.
- Pre-freeze trays of hash browns for 1-2 hours until completely solid.
- Load trays into freeze dryer and freeze at -40°F or colder for 2-4 hours.
- Turn on the vacuum pump and heat coils to activate the drying process, about 8-24 hours.
- Check hash browns for a dried, brittle texture when done. Residual moisture should be 5% or less.
- Quickly transfer dried hash browns to airtight freezer bags or jars. Store in a cool, dry place.
When ready to eat, rehydrate by adding boiling water or frying in butter or oil to restore texture. Freeze dried hash browns will keep for many years if properly sealed and stored.
Tips for Successful Freeze Drying
- Invest in a high quality home freeze dryer with powerful vacuum pump and low temperature capability.
- Use fresh, high quality potatoes and prep hash browns evenly.
- Remove as much moisture as possible before loading into dryer.
- Spread hash browns in a thin layer on trays, do not overfill.
- Allow adequate time for complete drying based on moisture content.
- Check for brittle, glassy texture when done drying.
- Promptly store dried hash browns in an airtight container after drying.
With careful attention to these best practices, it is possible to freeze dry delicious hash browns at home for long term storage.
Comparing Freeze Dried and Frozen Hash Browns
Here is a comparison of some key characteristics between freeze dried and conventionally frozen hash browns:
|Characteristic||Freeze Dried Hash Browns||Frozen Hash Browns|
|Moisture content||Very low moisture, around 5% or less||High moisture content maintained|
|Shelf life||20-30 years if properly sealed||6-12 months in freezer|
|Storage||Cool, dry location||0°F freezer|
|Texture||Porous and brittle when dry; softer when rehydrated||Firm, shredded potato texture|
|Color||Slightly lighter than fresh||Original raw potato color|
|Nutrient retention||Minimal loss during drying||Some vitamin and mineral loss over time|
|Rehydration||By adding boiling water or frying in oil or butter||Thaw in fridge before frying|
|Portability||Extremely lightweight and compact||Bulkier than freeze dried version|
As this comparison shows, freeze drying creates a much longer lasting product than traditional freezing, at the cost of a different texture and appearance. Both methods have their merits for preserving hash browns.
Storing Freeze Dried Hash Browns
To retain the long shelf life that makes freeze dried foods so appealing, proper storage is essential:
- Store in an airtight container like a mason jar or mylar bag. Oxygen absorbers can help remove residual air.
- Keep containers in a cool, dry, dark place. The freezer can extend shelf life further.
- Avoid temperature fluctuations that could introduce moisture.
- Inspect periodically for moisture condensation or clumping which indicates improper sealing.
- Use within 1 year of opening original container for best quality and safety.
With appropriate storage conditions, freeze dried hash browns can last for decades, providing tasty potatoes anytime.
Enjoying Rehydrated Hash Browns
Before eating freeze dried hash browns, they need to be rehydrated. Here are some serving suggestions:
- Boiling Water: Place dried hash browns in a heat safe bowl and add boiling water until covered. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to rehydrate. Drain excess water before cooking.
- Frying: Add dried hash browns directly to a skillet with hot oil or butter. Fry over medium high heat, stirring frequently as they rehydrate and brown during cooking.
- Microwave: Place hash browns in a microwave safe dish and add a few tablespoons of water. Microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring between cycles until potatoes are tender.
- Rehydrating liquid: Soak hash browns for an hour or more in milk, broth, juice or water flavored with bouillon or seasonings.
Rehydrated hash browns work well fried up into potato patties, used in potato salads or casseroles, formed into rosti cakes or as a base for breakfast bowls. Get creative with how you enjoy these versatile dried potatoes!
Tips for Best Results
- Use hot or boiling liquid for fastest rehydration.
- Allow plenty of time for full rehydration, at least 10 minutes.
- Drain any excess liquid before cooking.
- Add fresh herbs and seasonings after rehydrating.
- Undercook freeze dried hash browns slightly for the best texture.
With the proper rehydration method, freeze dried hash browns can reconstitute remarkably well for use in all kinds of dishes.
Freeze Drying Hash Browns at Home vs Professionally
Although it is possible to freeze dry hash browns at home, professional contract freeze drying offers some advantages:
Benefits of Professional Freeze Drying
- Large capacity commercial freeze dryers can process bigger batches more efficiently.
- Industrial freeze dryers reach lower temperatures and stronger vacuums for optimal drying.
- Testing is done to verify low moisture content for long term stability.
- Packaged in high quality packaging designed to maintain freshness.
- Experienced technicians monitor each batch for consistent, high quality results.
For best results on a larger scale, consider sending hash browns out to a professional freeze drying company.
When Home Freeze Drying Makes Sense
- Drying small test batches to trial a recipe.
- Preserving occasional surplus from a home garden.
- Controlling ingredients and customized seasoning.
- Convenience of drying at home on your own schedule.
For small batch experimentation or drying modest amounts of homegrown produce, freeze drying hash browns or other foods at home can be a good option.
In short, hash browns can successfully be freeze dried to create a lightweight, long lasting dried potato product that retains good flavor and texture. While the process requires care and the proper equipment, freeze drying makes it possible to enjoy hash browns years into the future. Whether you choose to freeze dry at home or use a professional service, hash browns freeze dry well for an ultra convenient breakfast side that can be stored and enjoyed for decades to come.