Hashing it out

How to build a better hash

By
March 19, 2009

“Leftovers” is not the most appetizing term around, but there are a few dishes that make leftovers transcendent. Who hasn’t roasted a chicken with chicken salad in mind or cooked an extra cup of rice with visions of fried rice for breakfast?

Into the pantheon of transcendent leftover dishes, let me propose the mundane-sounding potato hash. It solves, for one more night at least, the age-old question of what to do with leftover meat or poultry.

To make great hash, however, you need to understand the two styles of hash, and you need to restrain yourself from cracking a bunch of Cheech and Chong jokes. Cracking a couple of eggs, as you’ll see, is fine.

“Hash is one of those dishes that to taste is to know how to make,” writes John Thorne in his book Serious Pig, and he’s almost right. Throw potatoes, protein, and fat in a hot pan, be patient, and there will be hash. But you need to take a few steps to ensure that the hash in your pan matches the hash in your head.

Before we proceed, note that there are two kinds of hash: wet and dry.

Wet hash may have a browned crust on it, but it’s there more for flavor and appearance than actual crunch. It’s okay to pour cream into a wet hash, and it’s okay if the result isn’t crispy at all.

One of the best wet hashes I ever ate was for breakfast at a now-defunct Seattle restaurant called 727 Pine; it consisted of chunks of duck confit and fingerling potatoes in a rich brown sauce. It was as much stew as hash, but that is not a criticism.

duck confit hash with cilantro
A plate of dry duck-confit hash with cilantro and a fried egg on top.

Dry hash is home fries with extras. Crispy is the whole point of a dry hash, so you have to be careful not to put too much liquid into the pan. Dry hash doesn’t cohere; it falls apart into individual potato and meat chunks and bits of browned onion.

If I may stereotype, dry hash is the hash of choice for children. It is also my hash of choice, and the kind I’m talking about in this column.

Here are the components of a good dry potato hash.

The pan

Big, heavy, well-seasoned cast-iron. If you have a large griddle that heats evenly, by all means use it.

The potatoes

High-starch (russets) or medium-starch (Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and others). Russets make the crispiest hash, but Yukon Golds are less likely to fall apart when you stir them.

The best hash is made from leftover cooked potatoes, but how often do you actually have leftover cooked potatoes? If you don’t, dice a raw potato and boil the chunks in salted water for five minutes. Drain and continue.

And though part of me is embarrassed to admit this, frozen potatoes make really good hash.

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The protein

Corned-beef hash is classic for a reason, but any kind of leftover meat, fish, or poultry can make a good hash. Duck-leg hash is my favorite, and I also frequently make chicken, salmon, and bacon hashes. Smoked fish is great. Even tofu makes good hash, if you marinate it for flavor.

I have never actually made octopus hash, but considering how well octopus takes to being seared, I want to try it. Somehow, I never seem to have leftover octopus.

For dry hash, the protein goes into the pan after the potatoes are nearly done, and it is possible to overdo it on the protein: this is a flavored potato dish, not a big pile of meat.

The aromatics

I like a bit of minced onion, added to the pan at the same time as the protein, but this is purely optional. If you like garlic, add some minced garlic for the last minute of cooking; otherwise it will burn.

Other vegetables are good in wet hash, but interfere with the crispiest dry hash. And a shower of fresh herbs just before serving is an excellent idea.

The eggs

No matter what kind of hash you’ve made, poached eggs are the traditional topping. However, I often cheat and, once I’ve removed the hash from the pan, cook a couple of sunny-side-up or over-easy eggs and serve those on top. Runny egg yolks mingling with buttery potatoes is hard to beat.

If you’ve given your hash a Mexican or Southwestern flavor, sour cream is also not a bad topping, either instead of or in addition to eggs.

There: leftovers transformed, munchies satisfied. Oops, I wasn’t going to say that.

Editor’s note: This piece was subsequently featured in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 9, 2009.

Matthew Amster-Burton writes about cooking and culture from his home in Seattle. He is the author of the book Hungry Monkey and keeps a blog titled Roots and Grubs.

Related recipe: Classic Potato Hash

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1. by KAB on Mar 19, 2009 at 2:42 PM PDT

My friend Michel made a wonderful hash for breakfast while we watched the inauguration. Both were immensely satisfying!

2. by Kim on Mar 19, 2009 at 4:27 PM PDT

This is helpful, Matthew; I can see I’m going to have to get ahold of some duck legs.

What do you know about Red Flannel Hash? I just like the sound of it …

3. by sj.breeze on Mar 19, 2009 at 5:32 PM PDT

How about par-cooked potatoes, like for roasted potatoes?
My favorite hash is andouille sausage and green onion with a fried egg.

4. by Matthew Amster-Burton on Mar 19, 2009 at 9:33 PM PDT

Yes, par-cooked potatoes are fine, and andouille and green onion sounds fabulous.

Kim, red flannel hash is hash made with the leftovers of a New England boiled dinner. I don’t know why it’s called red flannel hash, though--I’ve heard that it’s because there’s beet in it, but that’s definitely not a required ingredient. Maybe a New Englander can weigh in?

5. by Matthew Amster-Burton on Mar 19, 2009 at 9:37 PM PDT

Here’s a piece on red flannel hash (pro-beet) from the Bangor Daily News. It seems like they’d know. http://www.bangordailynews.com/detail/90916.html

Further evidence that this is the real deal: the current top story is “Curbing car-moose crashes.” Mmm...moose hash.

6. by dgreenwood on Mar 20, 2009 at 3:16 PM PDT

Turkey hash! After t’giving turkey add some leftover stuffing to the hash with the meat. And plenty of onions. Divine! Mine is kind of between dry and wet - I add a little fluid at the beginning and cook it down until the whole mess is browned on the bottom then turn it to brown the rest. Lots of crunch. And I sometimes start with - gasp - raw potatoes cut into small dice. Works just fine.

Thanks for a great post!

7. by Weasel on Mar 21, 2009 at 5:49 PM PDT

You inspired a hash dinner for four tonight--with poached eggs atop. Ours was pretty standard: Maine Yukon Golds with some green pepper, red onion, garlic, rosemary and freaking awesome pork sausage from our meat CSA. Thanks for the cue.

8. by vesperlight on Mar 22, 2009 at 12:15 AM PDT

Hmm. So my version of the frittata is basically a dry hash with scramble eggs and cheese baked on top of it. Taters, onions, a few greens or veggies, a little ham, bacon or sausage if I have any, beaten eggs and cheese cooked until the eggs are set, then run under the broiler with more cheese. One of the few dishes my picky son almost always eats without groaning.

9. by Matthew Amster-Burton on Mar 22, 2009 at 8:40 AM PDT

That’s sort of like a Spanish tortilla, vesperlight. Good move.

weasel, we had hash last night, too.

10. by Richard Yarnell on Mar 25, 2009 at 8:23 AM PDT

Since I do most, if not all, of the cooking around here, I make it a point that if potatoes are on the evening menu, they will appear as hash, garnished or not, in the morning. There’s always room for the extra two or three that will be used in the morning. Even on weekdays when time is short, fully cooked, diced potato cold from the night past, brown up quickly and make almost fast food.

11. by DawnHeather Simmons on Mar 25, 2009 at 9:16 AM PDT

Thank you! I’ll be trying your hash recipe soon! (maybe even tonight). While I have to confess I’m usually okay with the stuff out of a can, this sounds SO much better!

12. by rtysons on Mar 25, 2009 at 4:32 PM PDT

I cooked TONS of extra potatos and carrots on St. Patrick’s Day just so I would have enough for a few meals of corned beef hash. We have had three meals of it so far (two dinners and one lunch, at least two of those with fried eggs, maybe all three, I just can’t remember) and have enough left for one more!

13. by llondon on Mar 30, 2009 at 5:19 PM PDT

Don’t know if you thought you were making a joke, but my daughter and I had octopus hash last week in Seattle at Lola. It was poached octopus with grilled cauliflower and leeks and it was delicious!

14. by Matthew Amster-Burton on Mar 30, 2009 at 6:21 PM PDT

That sounds awesome, llondon. I may have to go down and check it out.

15. by suzicruzi on Sep 4, 2009 at 10:51 AM PDT

Yum. It all sounds yummy to me. Now hash is on my list for a filling supper as well. I liked the suggestion of pouring beaten eggs on top of some hash, topping with some cheese and baking. Yikes! I’m gonna go buy some potatoes and get busy. You all have made me hungry!

16. by anonymous on Mar 24, 2010 at 12:30 PM PDT

Squeeze half a lemon over the potatoes about midway through for a great burst of flavor. Helps tie it all together and you can use less salt!

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Unexplained Bacon

Matthew Amster-Burton sniffs out the unexplained in the kitchen, the store, and the food world at large. He blogs at Roots and Grubs, podcasts at Spilled Milk, and is the author of the book Hungry Monkey.

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