Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Pierre Berton's Corned Beef Hash

Of the four recipes written by Canadian author Pierre Berton in the 1950s, this is the one I use the most often. Mainly it's because the basic ingredients are cheap and readily available, but also because with a few modifications it makes for an acceptable breakfast or dinner.

I'll be quoting from the text to give you an idea of what he's like:

Its components are proletarian: the lowly potato, the humble onion, and the same bully beef which is said to have won the first Great War for our side -- the Spam of its era, the subject of a thousand wry jokes and Bairnsfather cartoons and some nostalgic and old memories told by the fireside.

Why corned beef has cannot be made of fresh corned beef, I cannot tell, but it is a fact that in this instance, the tinned stuff is far better.

Fortunately, we can tell. Canned corned beef is already ground, prior to its being salted, cooked, pressed into shape and canned. This means the particles crumble and blend better with other ingredients.

So open a tin of it and crumble the contents into a large bowl ... I would suggest that you marinate the meat overnight in red wine, but alas, the desire for corned beef hash comes upon you so suddenly that it is almost fashioned in the white heat of passion.

One very much wonders if Mr. Berton isn't trying to parody the food writers of his generation.

So you chop up a large potato and a large onion, dicing them into tiny, tiny pieces ... Only careful and loving chopping will produce this effect, an attention to detail that is amply repaid also in the case of hash brown and Lyonnaise potatoes, one of which is almost mandatory with steak or ham and eggs.

We can vary this a bit; I'd suggest 2 potatoes, each about the size of a tight fist. Pretty much any type of potato (except for the golf-ball-sized new potatoes) can be used. If you find the idea of chopping time-consuming, you can also use the large hole side of a grater.

... Mix the onion and potato with the corned beef, break a raw egg over the result, and mix again. Then add about two tablespoons of red wine -- a good dry Canadian claret or a Chianti.

If you've ever seen the price of Chianti these days, you'll stick with regular table wine -- a Carlo Rossi red, for example.

Season gently with freshly ground black pepper, celery salt, chopped parsley and monosoium glutamate.

We can leave out the MSG, and a teasponful of dried parsley works wonders here. At this stage you could also add a tablespoonful of minced jalapeno peppers, for a Southwestern flavor.

Now sift a small amount of pancake flour into the mixture; not too much, just enough to hold it together. Mix again.

A heaping tablespoon of Bisquick will do the job here.

Once that's all incorporated, you're ready to cook. Mr. Berton recommends a cast-iron skillet, but I use a small frying pan that's a couple of inches smaller in diameter than a dinner platter.

Mr. Berton also likes to cook an egg on top of his hash, but I find the hash filling enough on its own.

Anyway, here's how the whole dish works out in convention recipe form:

Pierre Berton's Corned-Beef Hash

1 can corned beef
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
1 egg
2 tbsp dry red wine
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tbsp Bisquick mix
dry mustard

1. Crumble the corned beef into a mixing bowl.

2. Chop finely or grate the potatoes and onion and add to the bowl. Mix together, break and add the egg, and mix again.

3. Add the red wine, seasonings and Bisquick mix, taking care to mix everything together after each addition.

4. Heat up a skillet. Add oil or use a cooking spray, then ladle the hash into the skillet. You can either form them into patties or fill the entire skillet, depending on its size.

5. Cook for about 10 minutes per side, brushing dry mustard on the top surface while it's cooking. When done, slide onto a platter and serve.

Yield: 4 servings


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