Hashbrown casserole is a great weeknight meal, easy to prepare and serve. The fresh ingredients in this recipe will intensify the flavor, so it tastes great from the oven and doesn't go flat as leftovers. Going beyond the potato-y taste and subtle crunch of this dish, here are some tasty variations which are great for Sunday nights, potlucks, and times when you have a particular flavor in mind. Begin with simple ideas, then take on the detours provided after including cheese, fried ham and potato chip or cornflake crunch enhancements. Make them all, then pick a family favorite!
You'll need these ingredients:
The Idaho Potato Commission says that hash browns are typically steamed to remove the skin, shredded and then blanched in water or oil, then flash frozen. Frozen is fine for this recipe -- use diced potatoes, shredded, or chop patties into bite-sized pieces. You may also find "thick cut" hash browns which are somewhat like french fries but prepared as hash browns. You'll need a two-pound bag.
A can of condensed "cream of" soup provides the flavor base for this casserole. Depending on your taste you can use cream of chicken, potato, cheddar or celery. A single ten-ounce can do the job. If you're feeling creative, and especially if you include some green veggies in the mix, you might use cream of mushroom also.
Chopped broccoli or broccoli florets, asparagus, crisp green beans or other fresh veggies add color, texture, and flavor to the dish. They might make it healthier, as well. Make sure the pieces are bite-sized to blend in with the rest of the dish. Use about a cup. Canned vegetables will be a bit bland and soft for this purpose.
Four cloves of fresh garlic are equivalent to a half teaspoon of garlic powder, and a lot more interesting in the casserole. Along with a medium chopped onion, you've got flavor which goes wonderfully with potato. Seasonings also include salt and pepper, but you can tweak it a bit with paprika or a seasoning mix.
Butter is essential for this dish. Margarine just involves too many compromises, from the water content to the lack of buttery flavor. If everyone is sitting there hungry and sticks of margarine are all you've got, well... but fresh creamery butter, a half cup, will help give this dish a fresh and memorable taste.
Some folks will look for the meat in your casserole, and there are a couple of great ways to please them. One is crumbled cooked sausage or hamburger, the other is chopped up ham which has been pan-fried to increase the flavor, or thin slices of honey baked ham cut small to blend in. This is especially good when you serve this casserole for breakfast -- oh yes, crumbled cooked bacon works well, too.
Another note of freshness to add after cooking is chopped green onion. Sprinkle it over the top after you've added any post-oven ingredients such as crumbled potato chips. You can also put broccoli florets on top before cooking which will brown a bit but taste great when the dish is finished.
Sour cream goes in the mix, but it also makes a great decoration on the top, or on each serving. It is somewhat reminiscent of chips and dip, especially if you use potato chips. You can combine it with the chopped green onion for a colorful presentation which will impress guests or potluck attendees.
Cooking the casserole: butter a casserole dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter in a pan and saute the onion and fresh garlic for a few minutes. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and onion with the sour cream, condensed soup, garlic powder, cheese, potatoes, and salt and pepper. Add optional ingredients like veggies or ham. Mix well, pour into the pan, and top with potato chips or corn flakes if you like. Cook for 45 minutes to cheesy bubbling, then garnish and serve.
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