Hot Mess: Hash Bash

Though the term usually reminds me of butter-laden country cooking with Paula Deen, a hash is not restricted to salty potatoes and bacon fat.  A hash is simply a mix of different ingredients, usually thrown together in a skillet with a little oil.  It represents a cooking technique rather than a specific dish and just as it may sound, it’s a very easy thing to do. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t totally screw it up.

So you may be thinking that the most important thing about a hash is the ingredients you choose to make it with.  Well, you’d be wrong.  It’s the way you cook them.

Yes, even though a hash can technically be as easy as throwing everything in a pan at once, it is much better, especially for a newbie cook, to add in the ingredients based on priority.

What does this mean?

Imagine for a minute you want to make a simple, clichéd hash of potatoes, bacon, and onions.  If you chop up all these ingredients and put them in a pan with oil at the same time your bacon and onions will fry themselves silly before your potatoes become soft enough to eat.  With each mix of ingredients you need to decide what textures you want to achieve and cook each ingredient accordingly.  Do you want your potatoes crispy or soft?  Do you want your bacon crunchy or chewy?  Do you want your onions fried or caramelized?

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For example, I like my bacon crunchy, my potatoes soft and my onions caramelized.  Therefore I would first fry the bacon pieces and then throw in the potatoes, using the bacon fat to fry them lightly.  Once the potatoes are almost tender, I would throw in the onions with a little butter and cook the hash until the onions turn that wonderful golden color.  By deciding ahead of time how I want each ingredient cooked and adding them in one by one, I have more control over the final product.

So now let’s speak a little more generally.  Hashes, though you can use basically anything, typically center around some kind of starch - potatoes, turnips, rice, pasta – which acts as the base for the rest of the ingredients.  However, hashes can also be all-vegetable using a base ingredient of something like beans, eggplant, or even spinach.  The rest of the ingredients are up to you.  Traditional hashes are usually salty, using bacon or some other kind of fatty meat, then seasoned well with salt and cracked black pepper.  There are wet hashes where you fry off your ingredients and then add chicken broth or heavy cream to soften everything and give it a stewed quality.  And then there are sweet or semi-sweet hashes that involve adding fruits, cinnamon, and maybe a little sugar.  A semi-sweet hash is a combination of sweet and savory ingredients.  Typical additions are things like raisins, dried cherries, or sturdy fruits like apples or pears that keep their shape well amidst all the tossing and stirring.

So when it comes down to it, the best way to make a hash is to decide first how you want everything cooked, do your best to cook it that way, and season it in a way that you think is appropriate for the ingredients you have chosen.  I told you I wasn’t going to give you recipes, and when it comes to hash, a recipe really isn't necessary.  It's perfect trial-and-error technique and can be a great way to get rid of leftovers.  Making a hash is a great introduction to basic cooking techniques.   It’s not hard to do, but it does make you think about what you’re doing.

Photo by Jasmine McNenny

Oh, and here’s a hash I made recently.  It’s fried potatoes, onions, and fajita-spiced chicken sausage.  I like to top my salty hashes with a fried egg.  The running yolk gives everything a little moisture.