If you’ve really messed something up, you have, as the expression goes, “made a hash of it.” If you’re burning with the urge to get even, you’re said to want to “settle someone’s hash.” And if you’re not particularly good at something—adequate at best—you might be described as a “hash slinger.”
But all this is a little unfair to the hash in question because if you’ve ever had a good one, you know it’s nothing to disparage.
Hash, like a lot of other comfort foods, originated out of necessity. You might have a bit of leftover meat on hand, though perhaps not enough for a second supper. But you could turn that meat into a satisfying meal by combining it with some vegetables (usually potatoes) and a little seasoning and cooking the mixture together.
The idea seems to have originated in France, where a hachis referred to a portion of finely diced beef served under a pillow of mashed potatoes—a pretty close cousin to shepherd’s pie. By the time it made its way onto Americans’ tables, its Anglicized name signified a mixture of boiled or corned beef and potatoes chopped up, combined, and cooked until hot and crusty, which is still the basic conception we have of it today.
So why does hash get a bad rap? Economics and food have always been uneasy partners. Rustic cuisine was often seen as something people ate because they had to—look at liver or short ribs, for example, or recall that lobster was once thought to be a food fit only for imprisoned criminals. Hash
was no exception. In working-class neighborhoods, the hash-house restaurant was the equivalent of a fast-food joint. But at some point, people began
realizing that a braised short rib or a plate of wellcooked hash tasted good and their reputations took an upswing.
Hash is a great way to use leftovers, but it’s also worth the effort to let some good ingredients make their premiere—you don’t need to wait until you have some broccoli, spinach, or zucchini already cooked. You don’t even need to use potatoes. Why not try some winter squash or turnips? Look at a hash almost like a blank canvas and some of your favorite vegetables or herbs as the paint. Your own palate will dictate what makes a great addition and what doesn’t. And once you get the basic principles down, there’s really no limit to what you can do with a hash.
A few words of advice: Nonstick pans or wellseasoned cast iron skillets are the best cooking vessels. Go easy on the heat—the goal is a beautiful golden crust, but a crust can go from gold to scorched pretty quickly. Resist the urge to play with your food while it’s cooking so that crust gets a chance to form. Use oil sparingly; you don’t want to deep-fry your ingredients, and too much oil prevents a good crust from forming. And you don’t want to add all your ingredients at once. It takes a little longer for potatoes to brown than it does for precooked broccoli or meat to get hot, and you don’t want the ingredients to dry out.
Basic Hash Recipe
2 tablespoons oil (olive, grapeseed, canola, etc)
1 medium onion, cut into medium dice
1-2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 medium potatoes, such as Russet or Yukon gold, diced
4-6 ounces leftover meat, such as corned or boiled beef, roast beef, chicken, pork, lamb, sausage—anything you have on hand—cut into very small dice
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional ingredients: thyme, cooked broccoli, parsley, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, olives, seeded and diced green or red peppers, cooked carrots—anything you have on hand and would like to add
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until just opaque. If using green or red peppers, add them now. Add the
garlic and continue cooking for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
Lower the heat to medium and add the potatoes, gently pressing them in the pan to break them up just slightly. Cook until the potatoes are golden brown on the bottom. Stir the hash to let the other sides get a chance to brown. You don’t need to be exact—as long as a majority of the components get a nice brown color, it will be delicious. If using raw tomatoes, add them before you stir the hash the first time.
Two or three minutes before the hash is done, add any cooked ingredients to the mix and stir. Continue cooking until they are heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
TD&N Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 312; Total Fat: 13 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 28 mg; Sodium: 333 mg; Carbohydrates: 41 g; Fiber: 3 g; Protein: 10 g
Note: Analysis based on the use of corned beef.
Potato, Apple, and Bacon Hash
Serves 4 to 5 as a side dish, 2 as an entrée
4 medium potatoes, such as Russet or Yukon gold
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium apples or 1 very large apple
2 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh herbs according to your taste, such as thyme, rosemary, or oregano
Peel and cut potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Place in a medium-sized pot, cover with water, add the kosher salt, and bring the potatoes to a simmer. Cook until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and cool in the refrigerator.
While the potatoes cook, mince the onion. Peel and cut the apple(s) into small dice. Place the apple in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the
In a nonstick skillet, cook the bacon until browned. Remove the bacon and drain almost all the fat, leaving just a few drops in the pan. (Note: Keeping a
little fat in the pan is optional. The bacon fat adds a nice flavor, but if you’re concerned about the presence of a small amount of saturated fat, drain all of it and clean the skillet).
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the potatoes, apples, bacon, and herbs. Toss the ingredients in the skillet to coat with the olive oil, turn the heat down to medium, and let the hash begin to form a crust on the bottom. When it’s golden brown, stir the hash to let the other sides get a chance to brown. You don’t need to be exact—as long as a majority of the components get a nice brown color, it will be delicious.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves as a side dish or on its own with a green salad. For an especially satisfying meal, top each serving with a
poached, soft-boiled, or fried egg.
TD&N Nutrient Analysis (based on 4 servings): Calories: 303; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 3 mg; Sodium: 566 mg; Carbohydrates: 54 g; Fiber: 5 g; Protein: 6 g