Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Making a Hash of Things



Isn't odd how certain things that have never before been on your radar suddenly push their way into your consciousness thanks to their repetitive appearances in the most random places?  Take, for example, canned corned beef.  Strange that I came across mentions of this tinned meat product twice last week.  The first time was reading E.F. Benson's Miss Mapp (which, by the way, you should read, if you haven't already); in one particularly humorous scene, Miss Mapp, the title character, is discovered to be hoarding food in anticipation of a coal strike.  What gave her away?  A can of corned beef, which became dislodged from a shelf of a hidden closet, only to come crashing to the floor when one of Miss Mapp's guests accidentally opens the secret door.  OK, so maybe you need to have read the book to find this funny.

My second run-in with canned corned beef came a few days later, when my copy of Annabel's was delivered.  The book, now out-of-print, chronicles the history and the legend of this much-loved London nightclub, which, sadly, I have never had the opportunity to visit.  I was prompted to hunt down a copy of the book upon learning of Annabel's impending move to a new location close-by.  Anyway, while flipping through the book, I found Mark Birley's recipe for Corned Beef Hash, which is to be sumptuously served with a poached egg on top.  You'll find the recipe below.

I've eaten neither canned corned beef nor corned beef hash before, so their tastiness (or lack thereof) is a mystery to me.  Perhaps I'll take a stab at the recipe someday soon.  And to make up for this hash of a post, I'm also including photos of Annabel's interiors, taken from the book.  In surroundings such as these, how could food- even canned corned beef- taste anything but delicious?

Mark Birley's Corned Beef Hash

1 medium baking potato, about 200g
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
340g can corned beef
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp English mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Steam the potato for about 20 minutes until just tender. When cool, peel and cut into 5mm dice. Tip into a big bowl.

Saute the onion gently in 1 tbsp. oil for about 5 minutes until softened. Add this to the diced potato.

Cut the corned beef into 5mm dice. Mix into the potatoes with the parsley, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and seasoning to taste.

Heat a thin film of oil in a large frying pan. Cook the hash for 3-5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned and crispy in parts. Serve immediately. Serves 2.






25 comments:

  1. Hello Jennifer, I never have eaten corned beef from a can, a product I find slightly disturbing, but Cleveland where I come from has delicatessens where you can get fresh corned beef, which can be used to make great corned beef hash, as my mother has proven. Birley's recipe looks o.k., but I would prefer a higher proportion of potato. Also, while some people like to add an egg, I think that hash is rich enough and better without. Most corned beef is extremely salty already, so I would be careful about adding more.

    On the other hand, E.F. Benson's stories are perfect as is, no alterations needed. Have you read the Dodo series as well as the Lucia?
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, I have had sliced corned beef on a sandwich before (which I do like), but never canned. I like your suggestion of using fresh corned beef, which sounds much better (and perhaps healthier) than the canned variety.

      I am working my way through the Lucia series, which I absolutely adore. When I finish those books, I shall then start on the Dodo series, per your suggestion.

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    2. Welcome to Luciaphilism! Be sure to read "The Male Impersonator" a short Miss Mapp story that is rarely available, except in the Harper & Row compendium, "Make Way For Lucia" with the forward by Nancy Mitford.

      As to hash, I agree, avoid the canned meat at all costs. Fresh corned beef, or even leftover steak, shredded, is infinitely better, as is more potato. The poached egg is not essential, but very satisfying, especially topped with a dash of Tabasco and washed down with a Bloody Mary...

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    3. Quatorze, Thank you for alerting me to the Miss Mapp short story. I'm smitten with these stories. Truly smitten.

      I could use a Bloody Mary right about now...

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  2. Funnily enough, this was one of the first recipes I covered on The Greasy Spoon, all those years ago. It sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? But I urge you to try it- it’s suprisingly delicious and Mr B was a pickler for getting things absolutely “just so”. The act of cooking the corned beef and adding mustard seems to smooth out the taste for some reason. Hope you’re well.

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    1. If you give it the seal of approval, then I know it's good. I have a feeling the dish might constitute my Sunday supper.

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  3. An intriguing subject, to my way of thinking.
    Those with a highly developed visual sense can often have surprisingly simple tastes in food. Diana Vreeland admitted to being a fan of "corned beef hash with ketchup...that is my 'common' side".

    For my part, corned beef hash topped with a poached egg is a sort of guilty pleasure reserved for rare occasions. Julia Child's recipe makes the point that the hash must be tamped down with a spatula, in order to ensure crispness, then turned and tamped again, and again, for those brown bits to dominate.
    (Mustard doesn't enter into Julia's recipe, by the way.)

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    1. You make an excellent point. It's why Swifty's had such a loyal and sophisticated following- they served good, simple food.

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  4. Birley's recipe is a classic British version of the hash. As corned beef is cured, coming from a can (or tin as you say) doesn't really alter the flavor significantly. Being a New Yorker, the best versions are to be found at the rapidly disappearing corner coffee shops, where they can be had 24 hours a day. Paired with poached eggs and toasted pumpernickel to sop up the runny yolks, it's a bit of urban culinary heaven. Just my opinion of course!

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    1. You really don't come across corned beef hash here in the South, perhaps because we tend to prefer pork over beef. I'm definitely making this soon.

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  5. Hello again, All these comments are making me hungry for corned beef hash--I'll have to put in an order for my next trip to Ohio. I like Quatorze's suggestion for Tabasco sauce.

    About that Mapp short story, The Male Impersonator, it is available on the web here:
    https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/benson/ef/male-impersonator/

    or here:
    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600011h.html#s02

    I also have it in a Benson compilation called "Fine Feathers"

    --Jim

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    1. Thank you for the links. I'm now in the mood for corned beef hash and E.F. Benson stories.

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  6. Great post Jennifer!
    Foodie's comment reminded me of a funny, (and slightly horrid)story about a New York coffee shop. My friends Tice and Glen were sitting there having breakfast, or lunch, and all of a sudden a huge RAT fell out of the ceiling and landed right smack on their table! Horrors! But, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, they all went right on eating and chatting away, as if nothing untoward had occurred.
    I think that later that week, poor Tice was coming up to the top floor of the apartment we shared, and the elevator DIED and he had to spend the night in it! Yikes! The joys of NYC living!
    Dean

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    1. A rat and a stuck elevator in one week? Horrors!

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  7. Well, here in Pasadena, we have RUSSELLS...which has making fresh corn beef hash since 1930. A staple for those who partied hard, or young children on a Saturday morning still in pajamas. In the 60s and 70s, my mother made it for us with Libby's Corn Beef Hash (canned fresh piping hot),an egg overeasy on top, both served on top of buttered toast...it was delish with a splash of McIlhenny Tabasco. Wonderful memories and delish to boot...but fear that time and corporate greed may have changed what was once cooked to perfection by a time honored recipe, may have turned into another switch and bait which seems rampant in today's world. If your ever in Pasadena, stop in at Russells, it's like beignets are ONLY best at Cafe du Monde...

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    1. From what I've heard, there are a lot of reasons to visit Pasadena, and corned beef hash at Russells makes one more reason.

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  8. I had a craving for it this past Autumn. I hadn't had it since I was a boy. I was raised by older parents, so it was definitely part of their Depression Era childhoods & Baby Boomer parenting recipes. Unless you go to a place specializing in it, it'll be from a can so...don't feel too awkward checking out with a few cans at the grocery store. :) I tend to prefer eggs for lunch or dinner, as opposed to breakfast. It makes a very satisfying lunch on a cool, rainy day here in Portland.

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    1. I'm with you- eggs taste better (and go down easier) at lunch or dinner. :)

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    2. Same here SebsinFortLauderdale, I'm from the same population/generation profile, and oh the things my mother and father could do with a tin of corned beef, and a tin of corned beef hash. In my mind's eye, I can see those two cans standing in the kitchen pantry, ready to go. That little pre-scored ribbon that had to be pulled around by the key stuck to the bottom of the can, oh so carefully. The trick to the hash coming out perfectly is using a cast iron skillet, spread the contents of the can out flat, turn up the heat just so 'til a crisp surface builds up, flip it and do the same. Voila, Depression/Boomer era magic from a can!

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    3. Yup, my mother can no longer comfortably lift her largest cast-iron pan, which was her mother's! A friend did a road trip from Philly, where my family is based, to Fort Lauderdale, where I was then living. He asked if he could pick anything up at my mom's. I was like, "Some books and a cast-iron frying pan." He laughed. He got the box. He drove down. When he arrived in Florida he carried the box to our second-floor unit. "What is in this thing! It can't just be books." I pulled out the 12-inch frying pan, he didn't think I was serious, haha. I use it almost everyday! 90 years of family history!

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    4. Oh, man, great story! This is where I get very, very sad. Mom had the same ancient 12" skillet, but she also had the pre-ancient 12" flat griddle with the everso slight lip. Shut your eyes NOW: we had to get rid of both of them when we dismantled her been-in-there-70+-years house because all 3 sibs had dismantled their own houses at the same time. A terrible confluence of tragic cast iron circumstances. May the good Lord forgive us, Amen.

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  9. Anonymous8:26 AM

    There's a recipe for making corned beef at home in today's New York Times. Small world.

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    1. What a coincidence. It must be "in the air".

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  10. This is, bizarrely, my first ever comment on your truly wonderful blog which I read and stumble across time and time again when researching topics that interest me. I've just been reading your fascinating piece on gainage, which I had no idea of the word for until I came across it in an AD piece on Juan Pablo Molyneux.

    Regarding the confusion surounding canned corned beef - please understand that it is simply nothing like American corned beef, although it shares its name and basic ingredients of beef and salt. In the UK, 'corned beef' refers ONLY to the canned variety, whereas the pieces of salted and cured brisket that you know as 'corned beef' is not really known at all here - we would call that 'salt beef', but whilst now (and only very recently) widely available in supermarkets it is not particularly well known, certainly by older generations. Our canned version has a history dating back to the 1800s and was traded extensively with the French in various colonial areas as it travelled well on ships, which is why it persists in the canned variety in the Carribean as a relic from the terrible days of slave-run French (and British) sugar plantations. It was also a staple field ration from the Boer War (1902) until WW2, so it is firmly engrained in the British consciousness as a cheap and non-perishable meat, and often viewed as being rather low-rent.

    The canned kind is actually ground, and then compressed so it is a block that has a sort of soft, mashable texture, almost like a coarse terrine or pate, that is usually sliced (refrigerate the can first if you want to slice it!) and eaten in sandwiches, or fried as hash. The cans have a tiny tool attached that you use to wind the can open with - they are notoriously difficult to open, and can result in some truly horrific injuries when the sharp opened top lacerates a hand or finger. I now buy this kind of corned beef ready-sliced in a packet from the supermarket to avoid such war-wounds!

    Hash made from canned corned beef is basically a soft, mushy dish which browns and crisps on the top and bottom (if you're patient). Similar to hash, a mushy mixture of cooked potato and corned beef is a common filling in the north of England for pies and pasties (Pasty rhymes with Asti, not tasty) which are a sort of hand-held pie - imagine a Hot Pocket, but made of shortcrust or flaky pastry.

    Guy

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    1. Guy, You are a wealth of information! I always find the history of foodstuffs to be fascinating, especially since so many have such practical origins. I am reminded of Spam, which I have never eaten. However, I assume that canned corned beef is far superior to Spam. I'm going to buy a can of corned beef on my next trip to the grocery store. Refrigerating it prior to slicing is a great tip.

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