When I was little my mother would occasionally refer to someone ‘making a hash of a situation’. It was a British colloquialism meaning ‘to make a mess’ or generally be clumsy in dealing with something. It was only later in life that I made the connection with the culinary term ‘hash’ which broadly speaking is a muddle of skillet-fried chopped meat, potatoes and vegetables. This collision of thrown-together ingredients may be haphazard and unmeasured but rest assured the end result is a deliberate and wholly satisfying all-in-one meal.
What is a hash?
Hash is a culinary dish consisting of chopped meat, potatoes, and fried onions. Interestingly, the name comes from French: hacher, meaning “to chop” and originates from using up leftovers. By the 1860s, a cheap restaurant in America was called a “hash house” or “hashery” and the workers were called “hash slingers.” Later, canned corned beef hash became especially popular in countries such as Britain, France, and the United States, during and after the Second World War, as rationing limited the availability of fresh meat.
Only for breakfast?
Not at all: Hash is good for breakfast, lunch, or supper. When served for breakfast in the US, hash may come with eggs, toast, hollandaise sauce, or even baked beans. High-end restaurants offer sophisticated hash dishes on their menus. Modern preparations can include unconventional ingredients such as lamb, fish, venison, turkey, chicken, shrimp, or steak.
The very first hash?
Apparently the English were making hache or hachy as early as the 14th century. Then, in the 17th century, a well known politician Samuel Pepys wrote about a rabbit hash in his published diaries . A century later a recipe for “excellent hash” appeared combining a roux with herbs, onion, spices, broth and fancy mushroom sauce. Simpler recipes would replace some of the fancier ingredients with filling root vegetables like carrots and boiled potatoes.
Corned beef hash
Americans have been eating hash since the 18th century, as evidenced by numerous recipes and the existence of “hash houses”. In fact, the US even has a National Corned Beef Hash Day on September 27. Classic American corned beef hash originated in New England as a way to use up the leftovers from a traditional boiled dinner of beef, cabbage, potatoes, and onions. Nowadays corned beef and cabbage celebrates Irish American tradition on St Patrick’s Day as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Other hash varieties
Hashes take other forms in different regions of the US. A red flannel hash uses beets instead of potatoes and salt cod hash featured in historical New England cuisine. In the Midwest it was common to bind a hash together with a white sauce thickened with flour. Alternatively, in the southern United States, the term “hash” may refer to two dishes. In South Carolina and Georgia, it means a Southern blend of leftover barbecue pork and rice. Whereas in Texas, it is a thick wash pot stew made of pork chicken and beef. Some areas in the South also use the term hash to refer to wild barbecue game or pulled meat that is boiled first.
Hash browns (also called “hashed browns,” “hash brown potatoes” and “hashed brown potatoes”) are a popular breakfast dish, served today at fast food restaurants almost everywhere. The term “hashed brown potatoes” was first used by food author Maria Parloa in 1888. Hashed brown potatoes were a popular breakfast dish in New York City in the 1890s and were served in the finest hotels.
So how do I make it?
The joy of making hash is the simplicity: There is really no fixed recipe, no measuring and no particular skill or technique other than chopping and skillet-frying. The guidelines are:
- Choose the main meat
- Add onion and potato
- Add other vegetables
- Put an egg on it
- Garnish with fresh herbs
- That’s it.