This cheesy hash brown casserole doesn’t technically have hash browns, and isn’t what you’d typically think of as a casserole. If there is such a thing as a contradictory casserole, this is it.
For example, it isn’t a main course. A run-of-the-mill casserole is an all-inclusive food: protein, vegetable, sauce and starch, in one hot dish, for one cold family. Even though the word casserole is more a reference to its cooking vessel, if you said you were serving a casserole to guests, they’d expect the full range of food categories above. Whereas cheesy hash brown casserole is a wingman to a spiral ham or the anchor of a well-appointed brunch spread.
It also, as I said, doesn’t include hash browns. Hash browns are golden, pan-fried potato strands. The act of cooking potatoes in said fashion transforms them from shredded potatoes. So this casserole has shredded potatoes. But cheesy shredded potato casserole just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?
Despite the contradictions, Cheesy Hash Elegante is prototypical Midwestern comfort food. It borrows a lot of the tactics of its successful protein-ed brethren. The velouté of cream-based soup (in this case, cream of chicken) combined with oodles of cheese offers a smooth, tangy binder. The potatoes are cooked enough to be soft, but not so far as to be mushy. There is delightful brown buttery (dare I say, hash brown-like) crispiness atop the casserole, from sautéed and baked corn flake crumbles.
It’s not hard to find variations of this recipe online (Kellogg’s offers a standard version, and it’s not far off from this). I tweak it by adding another stick of butter into the casserole. It helps lubricate the removal of the food from the dish, and adds more salt and richness.
Let me repeat: it is rich. For a good counterbalance, try one of two mini-sides. For a tart option, roast cherry tomato halves in salt, sugar & olive oil for 90 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. For a sweeter, savory option, fully caramelize two onions in butter (low heat for a long time).
- 1 bag of frozen hash browns (southern “shredded” style, not the diced cubes), approximately two pounds.
- 1 cup sour cream
- 12 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese (1 1/2 blocks of grocery store-size cheese blocks)
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup
- 2 sticks salted butter
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups corn flakes, crushed
Thaw the potatoes completely, a few hours in advance. Mix the spices, soup, sour cream, 1 stick of melted butter, shredded cheese & the thawed potatoes. Spread into a 13-by-9 casserole dish. A glass pyrex or enamel earthenware are your best choices, if you have them.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. Let it tighten up, because the less soupy it is, the better it’ll taste. Look for a golden brown edge.
While the casserole bakes, melt a stick of butter into the crushed cornflakes in a large skillet on low heat. Sauté until slightly brown, about 15 minutes.
After the initial hour, add the browned corn flakes to the top of the casserole and bake for another 15 minutes.