Alimentary, My Dear
Making a Meal of Hash,
Without Making a Hash of the Meal
By Tamia Nelson
June 17, 2014
I loved hash when I was a kid, which was a very good thing, because it was a mainstay of the school lunch menu in the little farm town where I grew up. And hash still had a place in my life — and on my table — when I went off to college. Not only was canned hash cheap, but it could be found on the shelves of every corner store. It brought a touch of home comfort to my austerely furnished student room, too.
That being the case, you won't be surprised to hear that canned hash found its way into my pack, where it remains to this day. I've ditched the can, though. Having mastered the art of preparing hash from scratch, I now make my own. The result is a main dish that's quick, easy, and cheap. It also goes down well at any hour of the day, from a before‑dawn breakfast to a late‑night supper. In short, hash is excellent camp fare.
Not convinced? Then let's take …
A Closer Look at Hash
For some reason — perhaps because it's such a simple dish, usually little more than cooked meat, chopped fine and subsequently reheated in a sauce or gravy — hash has a long backstory. Samuel Pepys, the celebrated 17th‑century diarist and "father of the modern Royal Navy," mentions eating a "hash of rabbits and lamb" in his diary entry for 13 January 1663 (New Style). But hash isn't just a dish for the gentry. It's a very democratic repast, and though some folks think hash means corned beef and potatoes and nothing else, you can prepare a hash from almost any palatable combination of sautéed ingredients. Substitute fish or chicken for beef, if you want. Or make it without meat of any description. And these suggestions only hint at the many possibilities. Here's a list of elements from which you can mix and match:
• Bell peppers
• Sweet potatoes
• Winter squash
Alternatives to Meat
Meat, Poultry & Fish
• Corned beef
• Roast beef
• Ground beef
• Other deli meats
• Breakfast sausage
• Savory sausage
• Smoked sausage
• Catch of the day
• Curry powder
• Sour cream
• Plain yogurt
Too many choices? Don't be disheartened. The simplest hash is the best. Pick a few of your favorites and stick by them. I'm partial to potatoes and onions. That explains why I gave them pride of place in my list. And I've made hash from nothing else — except salt, pepper, and butter, that is.
The secret to getting a meal of hash off the stove and onto plates in a flash lies in using precooked ingredients that only require heating. It doesn't matter if they're canned, rehydrated, thawed, or brought from home. The technique is the same for them all, and here's …
How It's Done
By way of illustration, I'll describe one of my favorite quick and easy hashes. It requires that you boil potatoes ahead of time (or use canned, precooked potatoes), but the onion can be fresh (onions cook quickly). You'll also need a single ¾‑inch‑thick slab of corned beef from the deli. (Keep it in a soft cooler until you're ready for it.) And what if you're not as fond of potatoes and onions as I am? Then just substitute freely. How long will it take you to prepare dinner? Eight to 10 minutes. That's all. I told you it was quick, didn't I?
Let's get started:
- Chop all ingredients, aiming for more or less uniform ¼‑ to ¾‑inch chunks. But don't agonize over this. You're making hash, not cutting diamonds.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat or a moderate fire. In my experience, cast‑iron skillets work best for hash, but if you don't fancy lugging a cast‑iron pan over the portages, you can use something lighter. Uncoated aluminum and steel pans will need more oil than cast iron; pans with nonstick coatings, less. I use canola oil and (sometimes) a little butter. I don't recommend olive oil — not extra virgin olive oil, anyway. It has a low smoke point, and you won't taste the difference. Save the costly stuff for times when it matters.
- Sauté onions in the oil for a minute or two before adding the potatoes and corned beef. Now use a spatula or spoon to pat everything down. That's "pat," by the way. Not "press." There's no need to use a heavy hand.
- Add enough liquid to the mix — water, broth, or gravy — to moisten the hash. (I use broth if I have it, water if I don't.) And that's "moisten," not "inundate." The goal is a succulent hash with a silken texture. You can always add more liquid if you think it's necessary.
- Now heat your hash in the uncovered pan until the ingredients are warmed all the way through and the bottom has browned. Five minutes should be long enough.
- At this point, fastidious cooks — cooks who want their hash to look like the money shots on the cooking shows — will quarter the hash "pie" and flip the segments, in order to brown the top. They'll likely have to add more oil, too. But harried cooks who have hungry campers to feed won't care what the hash looks like, so long as it's hot, tasty, and filling. They'll just …
- Serve it up.
What did I tell you? It's simple and good. And quick. But suppose you don't have the luxury of precooked ingredients to work with. What then? Well, you'll have to …
Make Hash From Scratch
This will take a little longer. Plan to spend about 20 minutes hovering around your stove. You'll need to cover the skillet to allow steam to soften the vegetables, too. For the sake of illustration, let's suppose you have only a couple of fresh potatoes, a fresh onion, and a thin slice of round steak:
- Dice all ingredients as before, aiming for reasonable uniformity. The finer the dice, the sooner the hash will be ready to eat.
- Heat oil (or fat) over a moderate flame.
- Sauté the beef and the onion, adding a pinch each of salt and pepper and stirring frequently until the beef has nearly cooked through.
- Add the diced potatoes. Stir.
- Pat the hash down with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Easy does it. You're not looking for concealed weapons. You're just leveling the playing field. Now add broth (or water) until the hash is almost, but not quite entirely, immersed.
- Lower the heat (or move the pan to a cooler corner of the fire) and cover the skillet. (You'll want to lift the lid now and then to make sure the hash isn't burning.) Add more liquid if and when necessary. Don't stir, but use a fork or knife to test the potatoes for doneness. In five to 10 minutes the potatoes should be soft. That tells you they've cooked through.
- Remove the cover from the pan, keeping the hash on the fire for a couple of minutes more, the better to crisp the bottom.
- If you want the top to brown, now is the time to cut the "pie" into quarters and turn it over. You'll probably need to add more oil, too.
- Done? Then dinner's ready.
That was pretty straightforward, wasn't it? But hash is a protean dish. And if you're keen to experiment, there are many …
Variations on the Theme
These include …
Quick as a Flash Roast Beef Hash. Start with thick‑sliced (¼‑ to ¾‑inch) roast beef from the deli. Then just dice the slices and follow the quick and easy route.
Meatless Hash. Sauté potatoes, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms in the pan, along with dried thyme and rosemary, salt, and pepper. I like to make this from scratch — the fresh ingredients all travel well, though the mushrooms will need to be protected from bruising (canned mushrooms eliminate this worry) — but you can adopt the quick and easy approach, if you prefer.
My Grandmother's Hash. This recipe requires kielbasa, which you'll want to keep cool until you're ready to cook. (Any leftover kielbasa can be grilled and eaten in rolls with mustard and sauerkraut, just like you'd eat a hot dog.) Potatoes, red bell peppers, and onions complete the list of ingredients. Begin by quartering the kielbasa lengthwise, then slice the quarters into ¾‑inch wedges and fry them. You probably won't need to add oil: kielbasa is fatty. Once the sausage has heated through, add the other ingredients, either fresh or precooked, and prepare accordingly.
Scrambled Eggs and Hash. Fried eggs are the traditional accompaniment, but I prefer scrambled eggs. While the hash is heating, whisk the eggs together in a bowl or cup. Then, when the hash has browned, fold it over on itself. Now drizzle some oil into the empty half of the pan and give it a minute or two to come up to temperature. Pour in the whisked eggs, scramble, and serve. If you have some thick slabs of toasted bread, you can make hash sandwiches, or you can substitute tortillas and make …
And that just about wraps this column up. But don't be afraid to ring the changes. It's very hard to make a hash of making hash, after all!
A lot of canned hash has been eaten around countless campfires. There are good reasons for this. Hash is quick, easy, and filling — and it comes in cans. But you can do better than store‑bought, and making hash from scratch isn't much harder than emptying a can into a pan and heating it up. Few meals are simpler to prepare. And now that you've learned my secrets, I hope you'll tell me yours. But be warned: Unless you swear me to silence, they won't stay secret for long.
Related Articles From In the Same Boat
- Alimentary, My Dear, where you'll find nearly 150 — count them! — articles of interest to camp cooks and hungry paddlers.
Copyright © 2014 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.