Elastic recipe: Hash

I remember my first successful hash with great vividness. On that day the clouds parted, I could see the light, and I made a truly epic hash from leftover meatloaf and green peppers.

You see, there’s no real recipe for making this hearty dish of simplicity and comfort. The ingredients you can use are as flexible as Gumby at a yoga class. There’s no strict list directing you to add X of some ingredient, or that you need to have spices Y and Z to make it work. The room for substitution in creating a hash is really what has cemented the nature of elastic recipes for me.

The accommodating nature of hash also makes it a terrific way to churn through a fridge of leftovers. Make too much broccoli last weekend? Have it join the party. Is that a Tupperware container full of roasted chicken from the dinner you made for friends? Perfect. It’s like re-heating your leftovers, only you get to create something far tastier than a gray soggy version of what you ate last night.

How does this happen? It’s the magic of maximized surface area crustification. If you are familiar with the Maillard Reaction, you know that browned food equals delicious food. The definition of “to hash” is to chop into pieces or mince. By breaking up the food, you produce greater surface area, and thereby more room for Maillard to happen, which means more delicious!

These are my suggestions for how to put a beautiful hash together.

Elastic Hash

Note: when added to the pan, all ingredients should create a layer no taller than one inch. Otherwise, the browning process will be difficult to manage.

  • optional: fresh bacon and/or sausage
  • potatoes: raw or cooked, half inch diced
  • water (if using raw potatoes, you’ll need enough to cover them by a half inch)
  • butter for browning: 1 Tbsp (more if you need to pre-sauté raw vegetables, could also use canola oil)
  • vegetables: raw or leftovers, quarter inch diced (onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes)
  • leftover meats, chopped into small pieces (roast or corned beef, steak, pulled pork, pork chops, chicken, turkey, sausage, meatloaf, meatballs, salmon, tofu, tempeh, seitan)
  • optional: sauces (steak sauce, ketchup, mustard, Sriracha, salsa, creamy horseradish)

While the ingredient list is incredibly flexible, the methods involved in cooking a hash are more fixed. As I mentioned earlier, the idea will be to create maximum browning through increased surface area.

I also feel it’s customary to cook hash in one pan — preferably a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. This means no boiling potatoes in a separate pot only to chop and add them in later. I want my hash to be super simple, requiring as little cleanup as possible. However, if you’ve got leftover boiled potatoes to use, by all means please do.

If you’re using fresh bacon or sausage, you will want to cook that off and use the rendered fat as lubricant for the rest of the cooking process. Just brown your breakfast meats, drain off the fat in a separate container, then transfer meats to a paper towel lined plate for later use.

Next, adjust heat to high, then add in your diced potatoes and enough water to cover the potatoes by a half inch. When the water comes to a boil, drain the water off the potatoes and begin your sauté. This is where you can use the reserved cooking grease if using breakfast meats in the earlier step. It will turn out amazingly delicious results. Continue the sauté until brown crispy edges are just starting to form on the potatoes (about four minutes), then set the potatoes aside for later use.

Add in the butter and any fresh vegetables to sauté on medium-high heat until they start to soften and become translucent (about five minutes).

Adjust heat to medium and add in all other ingredients, including any reserved breakfast meats, potatoes, and/or sauces. Using a spatula, flatten everything as much as possible and cook for five minutes. Remember, you’re seeking the greatest amount of surface area you can get.

Chef John of Foodwishes describes the process well in his video for making corned beef hash: “cook, turn, crust … cook, turn, crust.”

Working your way around the pan, flip your ingredients in sections, turning over the browned bottom bits so the areas that were on top can get a chance against the brown. Cook for another five minutes.

Repeat this process once more, then serve with poached or over easy eggs and fresh herbs. I love my hash with a slight hangover and a nice cup of black coffee.

3 comments posted

  1. Posted by Danielle - 02/05/2011

    Great attempt at combining science and food by mentioning the Maillard effect, but all browning of food is not a result of this process. When pink, raw meats turn brown, this is an example of the Maillard effect. This is because it involves amino acids. When a crust develops on (for example) potatoes, that’s just the result of carmelization. The wiki article you mentioned is slightly misleading, but when you read it carefully this information is apparent.

  2. Posted by Living the Balanced Life - 02/05/2011

    Still sounds yummy!

  3. Posted by Sarah - 02/14/2011

    This clears up my personal misconception that all hash = corned beef hash, preferably the kind that looks like dog food. I also laughed out loud at this: “I love my hash with a slight hangover and a nice cup of black coffee.” Nice.

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