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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Citizen Dave: Hash browns and life
My hash browns cooked right.
My hash browns cooked right.
Credit:Dave Cieslewicz

Last week, I was called up north to help restore the ecological balance on a lake that had become overstocked with walleye.

After all, between limnology recovery missions, guys have to eat. So we did. Three times a day for three full days. During all of that I had only one assignment. One measly thing to get right: I was in charge of the hash browns for the fish fry.

My friend Andy, who owns the cottage, the boat and the fishing tackle I used, is also a pretty good cook. He fried gently breaded walleye and made his own coleslaw and even tartar sauce.

All I had to do was make hash browns. But I screwed them up. I followed the Guys Rule of Cooking, which is: throw it all in a pan, and if it doesn't come out right, that's what Tabasco sauce and ketchup are for.

But you really can't do that with hash browns. They have to be thin, so when you toss six potatoes in a pan built for three you wind up burning the top and bottom and you still get a mushy middle. Here's a culinary note: when you try to solve that problem by just scraping it all into a bowl and mixing it up, well, even the mighty Tabasco can't overcome the black mush. It looks kind of like snow at the side of the road in early March after a slow thaw. It tastes similar to that.

So, when I got home, the first thing I did was get back on the hash brown horse. Here's the correct recipe.

To serve two people get a good size baking potato. How big? A good size. Peel that potato and grate it. How fine should the grating be? The usual size. Next -- and this is crucial -- get the water out of the potato by making like it's a snowball and squeezing the living daylights out of that sucker.

Now chop up part of an onion. How much? As much as you want. Mix that up with the potato. Toss in some salt and pepper. How much? Ya know, you're really starting to get on my nerves with the questions. How the heck should I know how much? Not too much or too little, okay?

Put some olive oil in a pan. Don't ask. Just some. Heat that up over medium or medium-high heat and toss in a little butter. A little. When that melts toss in your potato and onion mixture.

Now this part is important, so listen up. Make sure that the potatoes are as thin as you can make them -- but not too thin. The pan should be bigger than the potato patty and the oil/butter should be visible around the edges. Fry this up for maybe, I don't know, five minutes. Check how it's doing with a spatula, and if it's golden brown and maybe a little burned, flip that sucker over and fry it another four or five minutes.

And there it is! Garnish with a little chopped parsley if you like. And you have the perfect hash brown. Your friends will be amazed.

Now, what does this have to do with lessons for life? Well, sometimes less really is more, and sometimes you really have to follow the recipe. Tabasco can't make up for every culinary mistake anymore than asking forgiveness can make up for every mess-up in life. But it's good to keep a large bottle of the stuff on hand.

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