What Are Pan-Fried Potatoes?

C. Mitchell

The term “pan-fried potatoes” encompasses a wide range of potato dishes made by browning potato slices, chunks, or shreds in a skillet. Potatoes are popular in nearly all parts of the world, and most cultures have some sort of preparation that involves pan-frying. There is really no right or wrong way to make the dish, and variations are both common and celebrated.

Various types of potatoes.
Various types of potatoes.

At its core, any pan-fried potato dish involves potatoes and a bit of fat, usually butter or oil. Potatoes must be cut into small pieces, then browned — or fried — in a skillet, usually over medium heat. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will fry. Usually, the idea is to end up with something that is golden brown on the outside, but still soft on the interior.

Potatoes can be sliced, chunked, or shredded before being pan-fried.
Potatoes can be sliced, chunked, or shredded before being pan-fried.

Pan-fried potatoes are usually either cubed, thinly sliced, or grated. The peel can be left on or off, according to the recipe or the individual tastes of the cook. Most of the time, the potatoes are fried raw, but some recipes may call for pre-boiling or baking, mainly to soften the starches.

Nearly any potato varieties can be used. Regional pan-fried potato recipes usually assume that locally available potatoes will be used, but in most cases, most any potato will work. Different types of potatoes cook at different temperatures, however, which makes combination pan-fried potatoes something that requires a bit more attention.

A skillet is by far the most common tool used to make pan-fried potatoes. The shallow sides and wide base of most skillets offers maximum surface area, while concentrating the heat. Depending on how crisp the potatoes are meant to be, a lid may also be helpful. A lidded skillet encourages steaming, which results in a softer potato. Without the lid, cooking is usually faster, and leads to a crispier end product.

Cooks often add other ingredients to potatoes as they fry. Potatoes have a rather neutral flavor, and tend to soak up the tastes of food around them. Onions, bell peppers, and sausage can be added to make a complete potato meal, popular at breakfast or brunch. Seasoning potatoes with herbs and garlic makes them into an attractive side dish.

Simply prepared pan-fried potatoes are often served alongside meat and fish entrees. They carry a taste of their own, but are also able to enhance the flavor of nearly any main course. Creativity is really the only limit.

Some more complicated recipes also call for basic pan-fried potatoes as an ingredient. Curries and stews are common examples. Pre-frying the potatoes helps them to retain their shape and adds a certain crunchy texture to broths or savory dishes.

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