The Thomas Keller Challenge: Potato Hash with Bacon and Melted Onions

(Read about The Thomas Keller Challenge project here. And don’t miss my Thomas Keller vs. Frank Stitt Challenge guest post on Wade on Birmingham.)

This recipe is the absolute best hash browns you’ll ever have. Which is a good thing, because it’s also the most fussy and intricate hash browns you’ll ever make.

Never one to make comfort food simple, Chef Keller has you cook down onions for almost an hour, render bacon for 30 minutes, fry the potatoes, and then cook everything together for a few minutes. This is decidedly not a quick-breakfast meal, but damn is it good.

Let’s start with the Melted Onions, a preparation used in several dishes in Ad Hoc at Home (aff. link). You start by softening the onion in a dry pan for 20 minutes, then adding butter and seasonings before cooking another 30 to 35. The result is a sweet, creamy, and tender pile of onion that somehow holds its shape. You may want to double or triple the onion part of the recipe below, just to have them on hand to put in pretty much any dish.

fried potatoesThe potatoes fry until nicely cooked at a relatively low temperature, so they don’t get terribly crisp. You’ll crisp them briefly at the very end of the recipe, but you don’t want ’em crunchy—it’s kind of the perfect texture to eat with a fork.

And the bacon, well, what isn’t better with bacon? Keller’s recipe makes it sound like the bacon’s not really supposed to get very crisp, but it calls for 30 minutes of cooking. Even at low heat, you’re gonna end up with crispy bacon. And it works in the dish.

You can cook this dish in about an hour if you time it right: Cook the onion for 20 minutes, then add the butter and seasonings and start the bacon. While the bacon and onion finish cooking, fry and drain the potatoes. Finally, throw everything together and you’re done in roughly 55 minutes. (Or you can cook the onion up to 3 days ahead.)

This is supposed to be a side dish, but as a main course paired with a simple green salad, it was a big hit.

This may be sacrilege atop Chef Keller’s pristine potato hash, but as a good Southerner, I found that a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce made this dish even better.

Now, if I could just find someone to make this for me Saturday mornings…

Potato Hash with Bacon and Melted Onions

Potato Hash with Bacon and Melted Onions
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
Serves 4 as a side, or 2 to 3 as a main course

1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 oz. bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
Vegetable oil (Keller calls for canola, I used peanut; it doesn’t really matter what you choose)
1 1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tsp. minced chives

Place onion in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until soft. Add butter, 1 thyme sprig, bay leaf, garlic, and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. Cover, and cook 30 to 35 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and tender but not falling apart. Remove bay leaf, thyme, and garlic. Remove onions from heat and set aside. (You may refrigerate up to 3 days.)

Heat a large saute pan over medium-low heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons water (this keeps the bacon from getting too crisp too quickly). Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes or until very crisp. Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but a thin film of fat, and keep pan warm.

While bacon cooks, prepare the potatoes: Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cooling rack on top. Pour 1 to 1  1/2 inches of oil into a large pot and heat to 300° F over medium-high heat. Cut potatoes (unpeeled) into 1/2-inch dice, and fry 8 to 10 minutes or until fully cooked and starting to brown. Transfer to prepared rack to drain. (Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to fry in two batches.)

Remove leaves from remaining 2 thyme sprigs and add to bacon pan, along with potatoes and a large pinch of salt. Saute 3 to 4 minutes to crisp and brown potatoes. Stir in reserved onion and bacon until warmed through, and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and top with chives.

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