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Will’s Texas Hash Brown Casserole

Everyone who knows about these potatoes calls them Texas Hash Browns or something of that nature. I call them Will’s potatoes, because it was my brother, Will, who first made them for me waaaaaay back when we were in college at SMU. A girlfriend of a friend of Will’s had made them for the boys on some occasion and it made an impression. He got the recipe and passed it along to me. I made  it a few times and then lost track of it. Pity.

I was leafing through a community cookbook over the new years holiday with my friend Courtney and saw a variation on the theme. All of a sudden I was overcome with the need to re-create it. Done in the traditional manner, it requires a bag of frozen hash browns and a can of the ubiquitous Cream of Chicken canned soup. Somehow, the convenience of the frozen potatoes works with me in this campy, cooking on vacation, feeding an army kind of a way. But, I still wince a little at using the “cream ofs”.

So, I made it slightly more work intensive, which is still not even remotely work intensive. The ingredients are basic. Just make sure you get the cube shaped potatoes that don’t have extra stuff in them…no peppers or added “stuff”.  Look at the label and it should simply say, “potatoes.” I suppose one could use fresh potatoes and adjust the cooking time, but it would utterly destroy the nature of what this is…easy as sin.

Speaking of sin…the more cheese the better. And, I did a kid side as well as a grown up side to this casserole. On the grown up side, I added a can of chopped green chiles right on top of the potatoes but under the other toppings. It was awesome. I highly recommend the green chiles. And, many of you might recognize this as usually having crushed potato chips or corn flakes on top. You are correct. I had neither of those handy, and opted for salty Ritz crackers. You may choose whichever floats your boat.

Recipe for Will’s Texas Hash Brown Casserole: (serves 12)

Ingredients:
1 bag (2 pound) frozen cubed hash browns, partially thawed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided use: 4 for soup and 4 for topping)
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
¾ cup chicken broth
¾ cup whole milk
1 cup sour cream
1 can (7 ounces) chopped green chiles (optional)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
15 Ritz crackers
4 tablespoons butter (for topping)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9” by 13” baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Place the hash browns in a large bowl and allow them to thaw a bit while you prepare the other ingredients.

3. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir with a whisk until the flour is completely incorporated into the butter. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring constantly to work out lumps. Allow the soup to cook for one minute to thicken. Then slowly add the milk. Stir to combine, and allow the soup to simmer and thicken for another minute. (Surprise! You just made cream of chicken soup without all of the junk that comes in a can.) Season with salt and pepper.  Remove the soup from the heat. Allow it to cool for a moment.

4. Mix the sour cream into the soup. Add approximately ½ cup of the cheddar cheese to the soup and stir to combine. Pour the soup mixture into the bowl of potatoes. Mix the soup into the potatoes. Spoon the potatoes into the prepared baking dish. Spread green chiles on top of the potatoes if you decide to use them. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the green chiles.

5. In a small bowl, crush the crackers. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and mix it with the crackers. Distribute the crackers evenly on top of the cheese.

6. Bake for 1 hour. Tent the dish with foil halfway through the cooking time to prevent the potatoes from becoming too brown. Once out of the oven, allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Note on my blogging, and why your potatoes won’t look exactly like the photo on the right:

The perfectly sliced serving of potatoes is from day two. Left-over alert. I ran out of sunlight and took a photo the next day after it had firmed up significantly. There wasn’t much left to work with, honestly. But do not expect it to come out of the pan quite this nicely right after taking it out of the oven. Serve it with a big spoon and don’t fuss over pretty corners.

I get a lot of the traffic on this blog from websites like Foodgawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie and Serious Eats. To have a photo published on those sites, the food needs to look beautiful. It is called “food porn,” if you aren’t familiar with these kinds of websites. So, it is imperative that I get a “pretty” photo of the food. Some of the tastiest foods I make are ugly as a mud fence. It is a pity. And, to some, the top of a cracker covered casserole is not the pinnacle of beauty. My version of beautiful can differ dramatically from the subjective opinions of the editors of these sites. But, those are their sites and they get to publish what they want to. My credo is to publish good recipes and to let the photos fall where they may.  This is also why I often have several views of the same dish. If they say no to one, I still have a few left so that I can re-submit them. Some days they like close ups. Some days they like photos from straight above. Some days I can’t make them happy to save my life (the exception to this is Photograzing on Serious Eats…they are very compassionate editors).

The “process” photos I take mean that it takes me about two to three times as long to prepare a dish as it would for you.  I sometimes run out of sunlight and I will take a photo of the dish on day two, so I can have a picture of a “serving” instead of a whole dish. I show you exactly what I am cooking for my family and that means sometimes I take my most important photos with three people sitting at the dinner table asking me to hurry up and put down the camera. Most blogs (though many also do process photos) generally show several photos of only the finished product, which would be a bit less time consuming. I could spend a lot more time dealing with the aesthetics of the final photo. But, I think (and please let me know if I am mistaken) that the process photos are valuable. If I do have to take a picture on the second day and a dish, such as this one, looks a bit different from day one to day two, I will let you know so that you don’t think you have missed a step somewhere. I promise you that.

I take plenty of gorgeous photos that end up being from average recipes and I do not share those recipes, even though I could surely get the photos published on these sites based on the appearance of the food, alone. But I don’t do that, because then you wouldn’t come back. That is why I so appreciate you sharing PIE with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and on sites like Pinterest and StumbleUpon. It allows me to concentrate on the food aspect and a little bit less on the artistry of the photos. After all, this is about the food. It keeps me from having to re-buy and re-prepare and re-do meals just for the sake of photos…say, at noon, when there is no one home to eat it but me.

And, while I’m on the topic of the guts of running a blog like this, let me just say that the greatest gift you can give your local blogger is to spread the word, leave a comment now and then, and pay attention to the advertising, if you have the time. It makes a huge difference in whether a post is a dud or a joy, and in whether continuing the blog is financially feasible. Let’s just say that food blogging makes NO sense financially. (One should not quit one’s day job to do this.) So my payment is your enjoyment of the recipes and your generosity of spirit in sharing the posts.

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24 comments to Will’s Texas Hash Brown Casserole

  • Kelly

    It’s there but it could have been a lot more clear. I will fix it up a bit. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. But you are right…green chiles, then cheese, then crackers, then bake, then pig out. Mmmm.

  • Stacy

    There seems to be a missing step in the narrative. You never mention the other 1 1/2 c of cheese. Based on the pictures, though, I assume it goes on top of the potatoes, in the baking dish, and before the crackers.

  • Natalie

    Oh Kelly, how I wish I could be brave enough to make and eat all the delicious food I read about on your blog. I have an unhealthy fear of rich, satisfying food. Thinking about having just a small portion is not an option. I still read every day because you make me laugh. AND because every once in a while you tease me with the promise of making something that’s both delicious and healthy :)

  • Kelly

    Courtney, that is a perfect meal with which to have the potatoes. I love those sausages! Yay, Kuby’s.

  • Courtney

    This really is tasty. It was an excellent side for jalapeño cheddar sausages and the leftovers were yummy for breakfast. I am happy to have your cream of chicken soup recipe.

  • Kelly

    Kathy, I’m excited about Trader Joe’s simply because I like to have loads of options. I have been to one in Phoenix before and much like In and Out burger, I just don’t get it…yet. I’m sure once I’ve had one handy for a while I will figure out the appeal. It should be fun anyway. And you are right, it is nice to have blog neighbors, isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words. I sincerely appreciate each and every one.

  • Kathy

    I have loved your blog since I found it. I have made a few of your recipes and have been very happy with them. I personally like your step by step pictures even though I am not a new cook,it helps a lot in my opinion. I even made your tenderloin a second time for Christmas dinner. The first time it was a huge hit so why not. My bother came over a day later and had the left over tenderloin and some Au gratin potatoes I had left and he hummed through the whole thing.
    Although I have my own food blog, I know little to nothing about this world and even the things you referred to. So whether it’s my untrained eye or I’m just not worried about the other aspects of food blogging, I love your site and how you manage it. I also love that we live near one another. I can’t wait to visit that shop you blogged about recently. Also what do you think about Trader Joes showing up soon? I have never been to one. I’m looking forward to seeing what all the buzz is about.
    Your blog friend in Little Elm
    Kathy

  • Kelly

    Cheez-Its!! Oh my goodness. My daughter would flip out over that. I’m surprised her skin doesn’t have an orange glow as it is. I love that idea.

  • simply delicious, hash browns are delicious by themselves but with cheese it’s something more interesting and quite amazing

  • Jessica Timmons

    I make a version of this too! I use hash browns and Cheez-Its on top rather than Ritz. Everyone in my office loves when I make it for meetings.

  • Kelly

    Thank you, Linda. And I’m glad to know that the potato in the parsnip soup works. I really like that soup.

  • Kelly- I just made your Roasted Parsnip Soup from Edible DFW. I had to alter it, as where I live parsnips seem to be seasonal and season has passed apparently. It hasn’t but…anyway. I luckily had one nice bag, leeks I found and my addition was one potato. Everything else I followed. It is so tasty! I’m serving it to my husband who said, “what’s a parsnip again?” UGH! Anyway your blog is great and those food sites are questionable at best as to what photo they will like. I enjoy cooking and writing and often do “process photos” especially in the winter months when the sun retires early. Happy blogging and thanks for reminding folks what makes us bloggers feel good about blogging.
    Happy New Year!

  • Kelly

    Barbi…there are a lot of variations of this. But, why don’t you be our tester and try it and let us know. I will say that low fat cheese usually doesn’t behave as nicely. But I know 2% milk would be ok. You could use 3T butter and flour and just have it be a tiny bit thinner. You could spray the ritz crackers with a little spritz of PAM instead of bathing them with butter as I did. You could skip the cheese in the soup part altogether and just put less on top, too. You could definitely lighten it up. But don’t use low fat cheese…just use less of it. If you try it let us know. And for the record, we could all try smaller portions. I am a major offender, myself.

  • Barbi Norton

    They look so yummy! Unfortunately, I am dieting (again!). Do you think it would it hurt to use fat-free milk, cheese & sour cream, and margarine instead of butter? Or would that just ruin the yummy deliciousness of it all?

    I just re-read my paragraph above and it sounds so pitiful. Maybe I could make it “as-is” and just eat a really small portion and give away the rest?

    Happy New Year!
    Barbi

  • Amanda

    I always love your recipes! This reminds me loosely of Tater Tot Casserole, which is one of my guilty pleasures. This sounds like it’d make a great side at a big family get-together! Perfect!

  • I am enjoying following you on fb and your wonderful blog! I too am a Texan. I have been wanting to make a hash brown casserole for some time now and what better one to make than a Texas one :) Thanks for sharing…looks so yummy!

  • Kelly

    Ooooo! Matt, I like that name too. I can’t believe that there exists in this country a place where you cannot get frozen hash browns at the snap of a finger. That is not acceptable.

  • Matt Young

    Yum a dressed up version of what we lovingly call Trailer Park Potatoes. We will have to give them a try! But you know in NYC it is impossible to get frozen loose hash browns, can you believe?? I went to four stores at thanksgiving, no luck. But these looks good so we will keep on trying!

  • Kelly

    Susan, you are a great PIE pal. Isn’t this an addictive and easy dish. Everyone always loves it. I’ll tell you what…there are certain dishes that just work the right way with the cream ofs…and this is one of them. I hope that anyone who isn’t inclined to deal with the roux will just dump in a can of Campbell’s. It is good and it is easy and it is fast. I’m just trying to do less of it. I have a chicken enchilada casserole that simply WANTS the cans. It isn’t as good when I fool with the program. I will win that battle, but I know that there is a time and a place for the cans too. This just happens to turn out very nicely without the can. And, the green chiles are great in it. I also want to throw on some bacon next time.

  • susan marie

    I admit to wondering how you got that perfectly-formed square of casserole on the plate! I have made these potatoes many times, as recently as Christmas Eve, and always feel a little guilty opening the can of Cream of Chicken soup! Like the idea of adding green chiles – I’ll have to try making it your way sometime.

    You know I’m one of your biggest fans!

    Susan

  • Kelly

    Catherine, you know I absolutely positively think you are the bees knees, too!

  • Catherine

    Honey,
    Everything you so loving place on these pages is perfect! I can honestly say I’ve not made one single recipe that wasn’t a big hit. I’m still working off those thin crispy oatmeal guys…. The process photos are wonderful, for me anyway. I like knowing that, for example, the cheese is supposed to be in there with the other stuff BEFORE the soup goes in.
    Consider this my now and then comment. Know that I have sung your praises far and wide. I click on your advertisers occasionally (I’ll do more in case anyone from Thomas’ Muffins is reading…) and I love you madly. Cat

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