The Story of Hash

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This novel form of hash is Dish #15 in our countdown. But where did it come from?

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our "Best of 2012" issue. Tune in every day (weekends, too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

Say the word "hash," and the canned variety usually comes to mind. You know, the product that features potatoes and either roast beef or corned beef in an impossibly fine dice of stunning uniformity. Decanned and fried with an egg on top, it's a diner staple beloved of folks who crave salty foods.

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Throughout much of the 20th century, this was the culinary meaning of hash.
The word "hash" originated as a verb in Old High German, meaning to cut something up. Our contemporary use in "hashmark" refers to the symbol made by two sets of perpendicular slanted lines, which visually suggests something being cut up into a hash, the noun that derives from the verb. Then we have accessory meanings like "rehash" (to discuss or dissect something a second time) and "make a hash of something," meaning to make an irreversible mess.

But hash is not really a European dish; in fact, it was popularized in the mid-19th century
United States, where hash was often the cheapest thing on the menu, a mishmash of leftover meat extended with potatoes and glued together with a modest amount of gravy. By turn, "hash house" became a generic name for any sort of low refectory, where a full meal could often be had for a nickel or a dime.

Nowadays, hash as a food has been revived, and it's not the canned variety anymore. Williamsburg's Diner usually has a hash of some sort on its brunch menu -- in the case of the picture above, a mélange of chopped barbecued pork, onions, cabbage, potatoes, and peaches, which add a little welcome sweetness to the dish.

In fact, hash is now a flexible designation for any dish in which chopped leftovers are assorted. But notice that, even in the case of Diner's newfangled hash, it still demands an egg on top.


Diner
85 Broadway
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
718-486-3077


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When it comes to brunch on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you can't beat Diner.

Location Info

Diner

85 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY

Category: Restaurant

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7 comments
Budbear
Budbear

Oh. THAT kind of hash...never mind.

 

wayyylong
wayyylong

@SoyChaiLatte someone's up early! wakey bakey

SoyChaiLatte
SoyChaiLatte

@wayyylong Weird sleeping pattern these days, I wake up at 4 am for 1-2 hours every day.

bklyn
bklyn

I'm not sure what sources you're looking at, but your "hash" origin story is pretty far off base. According to the OED, "hash" comes from the French verb "hacher," meaning to cut up into small pieces. And in England, hashes, or dishes made of meat cut up into small pieces, date to at least the 17th century.

sietsema
sietsema

It just goes to show how stories about the origin of dishes differ tremendously. The info about hash as a food comes from the Oxford Companion to Food, and the word origin info from my Webster's dictionary. None of these is definitive, even the OED..

bklyn
bklyn

 @sietsema According to the 1933 OED, hash comes from the French "hacher. According to the Webster's 3rd edition, on-line, hash comes from the French "hacher," from the Old French "hachier," and then from the Germanic "hache," meaning "battle-axe," which is akin to the Old High German word for sickle and pruning knife, which is akin to the Greek word for to smite or cut off. So I think you over-simplified the etymology more than a bit.

 

And there are numerous recipes for meat hashes in English cookbooks (Kitchiner's "Cook's Oracle," Harrison's "The House-Keeper's Pocket Book," etc.) before the late 19th century. They may not be exactly like Libby's corned beef hash, but they're in the ballpark. 

bklyn
bklyn

@sietsema

According to the 1933 OED, hash comes from the French "hacher. According to the Webster's 3rd edition, on-line, hash comes from the French "hacher," from the Old French "hachier," and then from the Germanic "hache," meaning "battle-axe," which is akin to the Old High German word for sickle and pruning knife, which is akin to the Greek word for to smite or cut off. So I think you over-simplified the etymology more than a bit.

 

And there are numerous recipes for meat hashes in English cookbooks (Kitchiner's "Cook's Oracle," Harrison's "The House-Keeper's Pocket Book," etc.) before the late 19th century. They may not be exactly like Libby's corned beef hash, but they're in the ballpark. 

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