The Story of Hash
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.
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.
Throughout much of the 20th century, this was the culinary meaning of hash.
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.