Kitchen Call: Hashing things out in style

Linda Bassett

Just as you can get away with saying the most outrageous things if you do it with a Southern accent, you can serve up the most outrageous combinations of foods as long as you include potatoes and call it “hash.”

Long a staple of diners or small casual eateries — “hash houses” — the recipe’s roots sit deep in the American culinary lexicon. Colonial cooks used every scrap of food, so economical home cooks, including Martha Washington, were familiar with it. Today, hash finds a comfortable niche even on upmarket menus featuring lobster and crème fraiche as well as on customary diner chalkboards where it keeps company with bacon and cheese slices.

On Florida’s back roads, waitresses with honeyed accents call their customers “sweetie” while-T-shirt-clad short order cooks (sometimes with cigarette dangling), plate up versions smothered with onions, covered with American cheese, chunked with bacon, diced with tomatoes, popped with jalapenos, capped with mushrooms, and topped with chili. Regulars and adventurous eaters ask for “the works” and crown it with a fried egg.

White tablecloth restaurants on the coast of Maine marry the dish to high cuisine using chunks of lobster from local waters, and incorporating corn, potatoes and chives grown on nearby farms.

Viewed by home cooks as downscale, hash does not often make an appearance on the family table. Except during the holiday season when leftovers are plentiful. With today’s economy encouraging judicious use of leftovers, hash may make a comeback. The cook needs to be wily to disguise the original foods — or make them so much fun — so that all objections disappear.

Making “leftover” potatoes ahead of time is a good start. Just bake up a few extras (remember to pierce many times with a fork to avoid explosions) and keep them in the refrigerator for a jumping off point. Cooking can be done in canola or olive oil, rather than bacon fat or butter, for healthier eating. Add a tablespoon of butter or bacon drippings to the pan, if you wish, for traditional flavor.

Here are a few recipes to inspire cooking with whatever the refrigerator holds. Always start with the potatoes, but other hard vegetables like squash, sweet potato and turnip can be added, keeping the amount to less than half the amount of the potatoes.

Any type of meat works, including baked ham, duck, roast beef, etc. When the meat is changed, the dried fruit should change accordingly, such as raisins with the baked ham. Use this for dinner, but don’t be afraid to poach an egg to top it for a hearty, late morning breakfast.


Makes 4 servings, easily doubled

Feel free to substitute cooked, cubed squash or sweet potato for half the potatoes. Skip the turkey altogether and make a vegetarian hash.

Pair this with a green salad and supper won’t seem haphazard.

  • 5 cups cooked red potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 5 cups diced turkey
  • 5 whole scallions, sliced crosswise
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, or, 1 teaspoon Bell’s seasoning
  • Salt, ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup light cream, or fat-free half-and-half
  • 3-4 tablespoons canola oil (as needed for cooking)

1. Toss the potatoes, turkey, scallions, cranberries, sage or Bell’s seasoning together in a large bowl. Add half of the cream. Toss together, adding salt and pepper.

2. Heat half the oil in a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. Add the potato mixture. Press down on the mixture with a spatula so it is even. Cover pan; cook for 15 minutes, lifting the cover often to stir the mixture. Cook until deeply golden, adding more oil, if it dries out. This should take up to 10 minutes longer.

3. Keep warm in the skillet, adding the remaining cream just before eating.


Makes 4 servings, easily doubled

Resembling an upside down version of shepherd’s pie, this is adapted from a recipe that James Beard unearthed from an old cookbook — I suspect one with colonial roots — and published in the 1970s. The original called for cooking in beef drippings and using peeled, seeded fresh tomato: I’ve updated it for health and convenience. Be sure to use tomato puree, not tomato paste. A sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese added to the top before baking is delicious and takes it nearly to the modern Florida hash house version.

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tomato puree (canned)
  • 2 cups chopped cold roast beef
  • Salt, ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the meat and tomato puree, cooking until the meat is browned. Season.

3. Line a baking dish with the mashed potatoes, bringing it up the sides so that it resembles the bottom crust of a pie. Top the potatoes with the meat mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crusty and brown.


Makes 1, easily multiplied

Topping hash with poached egg is an American breakfast or brunch tradition.

Have on hand a bowl of cold water separate from the water used for cooking; a separate bowl of warm water; and, some paper towels.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar (cider vinegar will work)
  • 1 egg

1. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil in a small non-aluminum saucepan or skillet.

2. Break an egg into a cup. Hold the cup at the lip of the pan and slip the egg gently into the boiling water, cooking 3 to 4 minutes, depending on how “done” you like your eggs.

3. Gently remove the egg from the pan with a slotted spoon. Dip it into the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. (Set aside in another bowl of warm water, for up to 10 minutes, to keep warm if you are cooking more than one egg.) Place eggs on paper towels to drain for a minute before topping the hash.

Linda Bassett, author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” teaches American regional cooking and international cuisine at North Shore (Mass.) Community College. Reach her by e-mail at