This gooey, cheesy, shredded-potato casserole classic is one of those American folk dishes that are so popular that every city seems to have its own version (it finds guises under various regional names including “Ward Party potatoes,” “hash brown casserole,” “neighborhood potatoes,” or “cheesy potatoes”). The basic formula goes like this: Mix grated, parcooked potatoes or frozen hash browns with cream of chicken soup, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped onion; scrape the mixture into a casserole dish; top with cornflakes; and bake. It’s super easy to prepare and hearty enough to feed an army.
Element of Distress
Too many versions prioritize convenience over flavor, using condensed-soup sauces and cornflake toppings. As traditionally prepared, the potatoes are bland and the whole assemblage too rich. The canned soup is abhorrent on principle (its lengthy list of unpronounceable ingredients barely sound edible). As for the cornflake toppings, they end up resembling soggy cardboard.
Line of Attack
This one-dish, easy, cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and uncommonly comforting casserole could certainly be saved. To make it more palatable, however, we’d need some tweaks. The checklist? Season the casserole properly, temper its richness, replace the canned soup with real food, and find something better than cornflakes to top it all off. We’d hope to inject some “from scratch” flavor without sacrificing too much of the convenience factor—when a funeral calls, time waits for no one.
To begin, we started at the very heart and soul of this dish: the potatoes. We wondered if preparing fresh potatoes would be that much better than using frozen hash browns. But as luck had it, we’d be better off with the convenient option: Parcooking, peeling, and grating the fresh potatoes took too long; plus, the frozen hash browns made for a less starchy, goopy casserole.
But the real extreme makeover would come next: throwing out the can of condensed cream of chicken soup. After some tinkering, we concocted our own creamy, cheesy sauce with butter, flour, half-and-half, and chicken broth—the latter of which created a savory backbone that nodded to the “chicken” part of “cream of chicken soup” in the original recipe. Now our sauce was all pop, no glop.
Now what about those soggy cornflakes? Oh, right—totally kicked to the curb. We needed something to deliver a fantastic, unwavering crunch to top all that creamy richness. We tested all sorts of crispy contenders—crackers, panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)—but everything paled in comparison to sour-cream-and-onion-flavored potato chips, crushed and sprinkled over the casserole.
Crunchy and creamy and just convenient enough, these revamped funeral potatoes are so good you’ll be dying for more.