I’m a massive fan of hash. It’s one of my most absolute favorite things to make and cook. I likely make some kind of hash at least once a week, typically something like zucchini, onions, peppers, garlic, herbs and chopped sausage. Just a big mix of colors, flavors, textures, aromas, nutrients, all in one pan. No need for anything else. It’s all in there!
Hash is a name stemming from the French word hacher
, which means “to chop”. You more than likely know of hash as Corned Beef Hash. When I was a kid, I worked in a restaurant that had a potato and fennel hash, served with a lightly smoked tomato sauce and pan-fried sole. I'll never forget it, because the recipe included a big fried fish bone. Hash Browns are another way in which a hash exists in common dietary circles (though, that’s usually more shredded than chopped).
A hash is typically chopped ingredients, fried in a pan, then served. A hash is a lot of fun, in that it tends to be created in a few steps.
Start with a hot pan, then add some oil. Then, add the element of the hash that will take the longest to cook, usually the densest ingredient (like a butternut squash, potato, sweet potato, etc.). Then, season and fry in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Add ingredients as it cooks. This process will accomplish a few things:
- It will start the cooking process, so you’re that much closer to eating it.
- The seasoning helps flavor the food, while allowing the seasoning to permeate the ingredient, so that the food tastes nice all the way through, rather than just the surface.
- The ingredients along the bottom of the pan will cook evenly. They will also fry, rather than steam. If your ingredients are not a single layer and they’re not overly crowded, you’ll get a nice fry on the surface. If the pan is too crowded or stacked too high, some of the food is not touching the bottom of the pan and will not cook. Now, you’ll have partially cooked food mixed with raw food. That can be good, but not in this instance. The other thing that can happen is steam. See, it takes a lot of heat to heat a pan and cook some food. If there’s more food than your burner can reasonably cook, then the food cools down the pan, the food sticks, sweats (releasing water) and you lose the color and texture. So … be sure to keep it at one uncrowded layer.
- As the hash fries, water will evaporate from the ingredients, rendering the chopped food smaller in size. This is good in that it adds some extra space, allowing for more ingredients to be added, without crowding the pan.
- If you add ingredients in order of the time it takes to cook them, you can do everything in one pan and still end up with a perfectly cooked hash. Typically, this means start with the densest and heaviest foods, adding the lighter and more delicate ingredients as the hash continues to cook.
- After each ingredient is added, the ingredients should be mixed and seasoned. Because the first ingredient was at least partially cooked, each piece of that ingredient has absorbed some heat. So, while it’s always good to try and keep things in one layer, once the pan and ingredients in the pan are hot, the fresh ingredients will pick up heat from the pan, but also from the other hot partially cooked ingredients already in the pan. This helps to keep the frying going, without the dreaded “steam n’ sweat”.
- Usually at the end, I throw a handful of fresh herbs in there, to freshen up the big ol’ fried mess of goodness.
In this particular case, I’m making an Autumn Mexican inspired hash for a holiday setting. Often, pumpkins and squash have a somewhat high carb count, so they’re seen as a bit taboo. Another of my tricks is to bulk out the taboo ingredient with something lower in carbs and complementary in flavor. This is where the chayote comes into play. It’s a very neutral tasting squash, but if fries up lovely and looks and tastes the part. The addition of the pecans helps to add bulk, while also adding some nice fats and a bit of a crunch. Fantastic stuff!