fontas food

eating my way through suburbia

Friday, October 19, 2007

(Corned Beef) Hash Marks: Part 1

At several times during our friendship, M. and I have talked about the merits of corned beef hash. We both have ideas about what constitutes "good hash" obvious mustard seeds or other whole spices, the potato : meat ratio, and other crucial hash characteristics.

For a while now, we've been talking about having a "hash off", where we each prepare corned beef hash and compare the different preparations. At this point, I need to say that I have never made corned beef hash, although I do consider myself a devotee of it. As in any family, there is a division of labour here. I'm in charge of things like programming the sprinkler system, feeding the dogs, and household laundry. The Spouse is in charge of certain other things: household repairs, lawn care, and corned beef hash.

So, over the months of "yeah, we should do that" discussions, we decided that we would have a three-way "hash off". M, the Spouse, and I would each prepare our version of corned beef hash for a dinner. We would record tasting notes for each dinner and then, after all hash entries had been consumed, we will tot up the totals and crown one of us as "Hash Queen" or "Hash King".

After checking our schedules, we decided that tonight (Friday, October 19th) would be the first night of hash. I volunteered to go first, for several reasons.

* I know from other competitive venues that the first entry in a scored competition generally is scored "tougher". You tend to want to save your top score for something that's out of this world. Since I'd never made hash before, I figured it would be better for me to take a hit just because of my place in the line up, rather than one of the hash experts.

* M and the Spouse have to work all week and I don't. Since we'd decided to have our first competition on a Friday evening, it would be easier for me to prepare for the dinner than either of the other two.

* And, in case I was starting to sound too selfless, I'd taken a corned beef out of the freezer, thinking to make my own rye bread and then have Reubens for dinner. When we'd settled on Friday for the hash off, it just seemed sensible to use the corned beef I'd originally planned for Reubens for hash instead. (Yes, I am on close, intimate terms with my inner Scotsman.)

Hash Marks

In order to compare the different hashes even though they will be consumed at different times, M and I came up with tasting criteria. We each were presented with a "Hash Marks" form, on which we ranked six different characteristics of the hash: texture, crunchy bits, aromatics, potato:beef ration, saltiness, fat factor.

All diners completed a form (or at least made some sort of markings on the form), which was then sealed in an envelope, dated, and put aside. When each hash entry has been consumed, we will break open the envelopes and total up the scores.

As a newcomer to "slinging hash", I decided to approach the dish from its roots. What is hash, if not a dish of leftovers?

With that in mind, I pre-cooked everything and then combined them all in a pan for the final touches.

Corned Beef Hash

4 T. butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 tsp. thyme
4 cups cooked corned beef, shredded (I started with a 4-lb. uncooked corned brisket)
4 lbs. Sierra Gold potatoes, washed, quartered, and boiled until tender-firm
1/2 cup whipping cream

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sweat until soft.

Stir in thyme, then add potatoes and shredded beef. Sprinkle mixture with whipping cream.

Cook over medium-high heat, turning the mixture over every five minutes or so (or however long it takes to build up some crust).

Things I would do differently next time:

* I'd divide the ingredients into two different pans; there was just too much stuff in the pan to form really good crunchy bits

* I'd use way more onion; the onion I did use was lost beneath the flavour of the corned beef. It needed more "presence".

I have no idea when the next hash off will be but I do know that it will be at M's house. She's an expert at hash so I fully expect to be spanked. Fear not, dear reader, her entry in the hash off will be blogged here...


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