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Exploring Corned Beef Hash

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Learn how to make hash with corned beef, turkey, and vegan options

Learn how to make hash with corned beef, turkey, and vegan options

There is lobster a la Newburg, which some people think is great,

And terrapin’s a dainty for the culture eater’s plate;

There are many pleasant dishes for the man who has cash,

But there’s nothing that quite equals Hanna’s famous corn-beef hash.

— “Hanna’s Heavenly Hash,” Washington Post, June 9, 1906

Where's the Beef?

Corned beef hash (a combination of cured beef, potatoes, and onions minced and fried in a skillet) is often associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Corned beef is Irish, isn’t it?

In a word, no; it’s not an original Irish dish, so how and when did corned beef become associated with the Isle of Erin? Let’s take a brief look at the history book.

In the beginning Gaelic Ireland was a hierarchical society. The top-most layer of the social order was composed of kings and druid priests who carried out the roles of judge, scholar, poet, and physician. The next level of the hierarchy was skilled craftsmen and musicians. Below these were freemen, those who owned land and cattle. The lowest of the low were serfs and slaves, usually criminals or prisoners of war.

The Gaels were polytheistic or pagan and also an agrarian society. Cows were sacred, revered for the dairy products they provided, and for their strength in working the fields. The consumption of beef was reserved for only the wealthiest, the kings and heads of clans. In fact, the general populace scorned these beef-eaters for their gluttony.

Pigs were the most prevalent animal bred for consumption and pork was the most common form of meat in Ireland. This way of life remained unaltered for centuries until 1542 when Henry VIII of England declared himself King of Ireland; the island was brought under English control and the Gaelic political and social order came to an end.

Shredded cooked corned beef

Shredded cooked corned beef

Potatoes in Ireland

One generation later, the potato was introduced to Europe from South America. Potatoes grew well in the climate of Ireland and, unlike grains, could easily be stored during the winter months. Keep this fact in mind as we will be returning to it shortly.

Unlike the Irish, the English were a beef-eating society and under the rule of the House of Tudor, tens of thousands of cattle were exported from Ireland to England to feed (pun intended) the growing hunger for the meat. English cattle-breeders objected to this competition and in 1663 a Cattle Act was passed which prohibited the export of cattle from Ireland to England. This resulted in a glut of beef cattle in Ireland where, coincidently, the cost of salt was one-tenth that of England’s. With large quantities of beef and low-cost salt, is it any wonder that Ireland soon became the center of corned beef production? Irish corned beef became such a popular commodity that it even fed both sides of those battling in the Anglo-French War.

Ironically with high demand prices also increased, and the cost of corned beef was still out of reach for the common citizen. But, they still had the potato. With access to this new staple food, the Irish population began to grow, and grow rapidly. In 1570 there were fewer than 1 million people living in Ireland; by 1840 the population had exploded to more than 8 million, most of them poor. This growing population subsisted on a diet comprised mainly of potatoes and milk, a bland and boring diet, but nevertheless one which provided all the nutrition one needed to maintain life.

Blighted potatoes

Blighted potatoes

Irish Migration to the United States

The disaster began in 1845 when the potato crop was destroyed by an infestation of the fungal disease Phytophthora Infestans, better known as Potato Blight. This devastating disease rotted the potatoes in the ground, rendering entire crops inedible and obliterating the primary food source for millions of people.

There was now nothing for the poor to eat. Although many had enough land to grow crops other than potatoes, they were caught in an impossible bind–they had to sell these crops to pay rent or face eviction. While some landlords allowed their tenants to retain grain crops for food and reduced their tenants’ rents or even waived them, others were merciless.

More than a quarter of a million laborers and tenant farmers were evicted between 1845 and 1854; even more than that number simply walked away from their homes, never to return, rather than face certain starvation. One million died of starvation and/or disease and more than 2 million emigrated; whole families, even whole villages, left en masse.

According to U.S. census records, from 1841 to 1850 780,000 people emigrated from Ireland to America, and in the next 10 years, the number was more than 914,000.

We’ve discussed the importance of the potato in the Irish diet and how the loss of that foodstuff caused the migration of hundreds of thousands of people, prompting them to seek refuge on our shores. And we established that beef was the food of kings; pork, in the form of cured, unsmoked ham, was the protein available to the common Irish family. It is what they were accustomed to and what they sought (and could not find at a reasonable price) here in America. But there was a substitute readily available at kosher delicatessens—corned beef.

Why Hash?

And so we have come full circle, corned beef was famous in Ireland but out of reach for the common man, so was not a part of the local table. Only when they came to the United States did corned beef become a customary part of the Irish-American diet.

The word hash comes from the French word ‘hacher’ (to chop) and that is definitely what one must do to make a hash. What we now enjoy on a leisurely weekend breakfast was once a means of using leftover scraps of this and that to feed a hungry family.

Corned beef hash with eggs

Corned beef hash with eggs

A Perfect Corned Beef Hash

The basic ingredients for a corned beef hash are pretty simple, but I think it's important to create the right balance of beef to potato and pay attention to the herbs and seasonings.

Ingredients

Yield: 4 servings

  • 3 cups leftover cooked potato cut in 1/2-inch dice (see note below if you do not have leftover potatoes)
  • 3 cups leftover corned beef, cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper, top and seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Minced fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the corned beef in the bowl of a food processor; pulse several times, until coarsely shredded. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper and cook until the onion softens and begins to turn slightly golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. To the same pan (don't wash it) add the cooking oil. Place the well-drained cooked potatoes to the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes. Don't mess with them; leave them alone and allow them to brown in the pan. If you stir them too much they will simply fall apart. After 4 minutes flip them with a spatula to brown the other side. Note that they won't completely brown all over. It's OK.
  4. Return the onions and bell pepper to the pan and toss in the diced cooked corned beef. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more, until everything is heated through. Toss/stir once or twice to get the meat and vegetables mixed together.
  5. Drizzle the cream over the top and allow your hash to cook for a minute more. (My mom always did this with her roast beef hash).
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with minced parsley.

Note: If you do not have leftover potatoes, place one pound of Yukon gold potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch dice in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. It should take about 5 minutes for the potatoes to be done; the tip of a sharp knife should be able to pierce them easily but they should still be firm, not mushy. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Home-cured corned beef

Home-cured corned beef

Make Your Own Corned Beef

What if you have a hunger for corned beef and St. Patrick's Day is far in the future or (conversely) a dot in the rear-view mirror. I've found that in my part of the world, corned beef brisket is only available in March. Simply Recipes comes to the rescue. You can make your own corned beef. It's not difficult—just buy a beef brisket, kosher salt, curing salt, some pickling spices . . . and give yourself 5 to 7 days.

Corned turkey

Corned turkey

Corned Turkey Breast

In truth, the flavor of corned beef is not in the beef, but in the classic combination of pickling spices that "corn" (cure) the meat. The author of the website Skinny Taste has created a healthier version of our "star of the show" by making corned turkey. Make Gina's corned turkey and cabbage and use the leftovers to make a corned turkey hash.

Vegan Corned "Beef"

My daughter has been a vegetarian for 20 years, but she still reminisces about some of the foods that she grew up with; one of those is corned beef hash. The creamy crispy potatoes, golden onions, and bell pepper and spices are warm and comforting; but (a big but), there's meat.

Seitan is a non-meat alternative to meat and is commonly used to create faux sausage and chicken. A dough is made of vital wheat gluten (you can buy it in the natural foods section of your grocery store), vegetable broth, and spices. When brined and then simmered in the slow cooker, it takes on the texture and mouthfeel of real meat. It's incredibly convincing. If, like my daughter, you have shunned meat or don't eat beef, give this vegan corned beef recipe a try.

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2020:

Yes my friend, the original is boozy but I'll have a non-alcohol and a vegan version too. Something for everyone.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 02, 2020:

Just a heads up on the Tiramisu; the ones I like have brandy in them?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2020:

Eric, my shopping habits have drastically changed too. If Beth and I were planning dinner and found we were missing something, hey we'd just hop in the car and drive into town. Now, we pick up groceries curbside just once a week. I'm glad you enjoyed the history lesson.

Next week we'll be exploring tiramisu. I think that will be more to Bill's liking, don't you?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2020:

Shauna, mom didn't have an explanation; it's something she always did. I've made hash with and without and it seems that when the cream touches the surface of the hot pan (it seeps down), it helps create that crisp crustiness we want.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 02, 2020:

I love corned beef but have only had Hormel's version of hash, which isn't very good. I've never made it myself, but should probably try the next time I make corned beef and cabbage. I always have a ton left over because my son won't eat it (neither the corned beef nor the cabbage), but I make it every year around St. Paddy's Day.

What's the purpose of drizzling cream over the hash once it's cooked? I don't think I've ever seen that, Linda.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 02, 2020:

Wonderful. Poor poor Bill. The vegan one looks fun.

I think I will shy from sweet potatoes.

I think I got that right that you brown your potatoes first. That makes sense - I was not doing that. Turkey sounds great. You mentioned Roast Beef Hash and that makes sense to me.

It is strange -- in the pre-covid days I would run to the store and get the stuff. Now those trips are once a week, changes the spontaneity, but maybe that is good.

Thanks so much for this, and I really liked the history. It is always neat to learn about American adaptations.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2020:

Bill, if you had the stuff from a can as a child I can understand your tummy troubles. It's ghastly--looks like dog food. I'm sorry. I hope next week's offering is more to your liking.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2020:

Thanks Flourish. Since my daughter is vegetarian I'm always on the lookout for substitutions. My older daughter and I made seitan Italian "sausage" last week and it was really quite good.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 02, 2020:

I can't do it! I'm sorry, Linda, I want to be supportive, but corned beef makes me gag, and has since I was a kid. You know I love you, but I'm putting my foot down on this one. :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 02, 2020:

Very interesting that there are meat free alternatives! Just when you think you’ve heard it all! Excellent history information here.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2020:

John, go forth and prosper. Everything's better with potatoes.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 01, 2020:

Linda, I loved the history lesson. Corned beef is one of my favourite meats In fact, but would you believe I have never eaten corned beef hash. You have convinced me to give it a try...I have corned beef in the freezer.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 01, 2020:

I like corned beef hash. I enjoyed reading your histry of cored beef and potatoes. I have ancestry that originally came from Scotland, then a couple of generations lived in Ireland. However, they came to the U.S. in the late 1600's. I thought it was due to a potatoe famin but apparently not.

I really enjoyed your article, history and all. Thanks for the recipe as well. I hope you have a good week, Linda.

manatita44 from london on June 01, 2020:

I try not to use gluten and cows milk. I use almond, some soya and goat's milk, alternating. Most supermarkets now have a health section. So I eat bread, but it is free of many things and don't always taste good.

I vary between eggs and plant protein and add Heinz baked beans about 4 times a week. I use porridge, quinoa and some gluten-free cereals called Mesa Sunrise with fruits and nuts. I sometimes add ripe banana to my cereals.

Remember, spiritual vegetarians have no moral or ethical reasons to deal with. We are not extreme and not activists. For the Yoga practitioner, everything is about consciousness, energy, vibrations ... plants are gentle and mild; animals are restless, murky, dirty, fish is indolent and slothful.

It is all about consciousness ... the energy or spirit of the thing. We are vegetarians and not vegan, meaning we are the traditional lacto-vegetarian.

One who uses milk, cheese and eggs. However, life and health has changed a lot and so quite a few of us do not use cheese now, nor drink cow's milk for health reasons.

P.S I'm hearing as I write to you, that America is having problems. Please pray, my sweet.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2020:

Manatita, I'm smacking myself in the forehead. Yes, I should have included a hash with sweet potatoes (or yams), my older daughter's favorites. Typically when I make a hash in the Carb Diva home, I use 50/50 white and sweet potatoes.

I know that you are vegetarian. If you are still not working, or working from home, you might stretch your culinary skills and attempt making seitan (unless, of course, you are now also gluten intolerant). It creates a very satisfying "meaty-feeling" platform for just about any flavor you wish to introduce. Perhaps I should write an article on how to make seitan and use it in various recipes???

manatita44 from london on June 01, 2020:

I actually had the corn beef harsh as a child ... well in some form that looked quite similar. I took up the vegetarian lifestyle when I was 30. 38 years ago!

Very nice poem up top and great Irish history about life and the potato.

Give me sweet potato every day. I grew up with it, but I also understand that it is naturally more nutritional.