Like most of the best old fashioned dishes, there are as many variations of corned beef hash as there are households that eat it. Corned beef hash has been a favourite for a long time – a staple of both rationing and ration packs, sustaining civilians and soldiers alike during the world wars – and that’s provided ample opportunity for the development of different recipes.
Its non-negotiables are pretty minimal: salt cured beef and potatoes, cooked together, but, beyond that, the variables are manifold. Some choose to cook the above with stock, some cook separately and fry. I like the potatoes sliced and sautéd, before adding the corned beef, and then sliced onions. But I accept that it’s probably more traditional to dice them, and that others will use much larger chunks, or even mash them. Cabbage, peas, even baked beans, are all possible and worthy additions; Delia chucks a fried egg on top.
So it may seem sacrilegious to offer up some kind of recipe given the above, but I do so with the caveat that (for once) I’m not trying to be definitive: this is just how I like it, with slices of potato, sautéed to gain a little bit of colour before being cooked down with the stock and corned beef, so the meat starts to sizzle and crisp at the edges. I cook the onion separately, until it turns golden and smells of chuck wagons. But you could cook strips of cabbage with the onions, throw in handfuls of frozen peas, serve with baked beans, smash your potato until it mashes in with the corned beef. Or even go for Delia’s fried egg garnish.
Of course, it’s possible to make your own corned beef: salting brisket yourself (it is the salt crystals or ‘corns’ which gives rise to the ‘corned’ in ‘corned beef’), and using a trotter to introduce fat and gelatine. But it seems at odds with the make-do-and-mend nature of the dish; throwing cheap ingredients into a pan and simmering it down for 20 minutes has the rug pulled from under it slightly if you’ve paid lots of money for a piece of flank and spent a week brining and simmering. I plump for the distinctive tinned stuff – one of the very few food products that comes with its own key – and tell myself, during those 20 speedy, easy minutes, that in doing so I’m sticking to the spirit of the dish.
Corned Beef Hash
Makes: Enough to generously serve two
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
1 tin low salt corned beef
2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
300g new potatoes
300ml beefstock made from stockpot or similar
1. Slice the onion into slivers. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and, when, hot, add a tablespoon of oil and the onion. Cook until the onion is soft, and has taken on some colour: don’t obliterate them, but you want them be golden. Set these to one side.
2. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and add the potatoes. Cook until tender: this will take about 10-15 minutes, but you can test by sticking a sharp knife into one of the potatoes – if it slips off the knife, it’s ready.
3. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handles, slice or dice the potatoes, depending on your preference.
4. Make up 300ml of beef stock, and heat the second tablespoon of oil in a frying pan. Add the potatoes to the pan and sauté until they’ve taken on a little colour. Add the corned beef, breaking it up, and the beef stock. Cook over a medium heat until the stock has cooked down, the corned beef is beginning to crisp just at the edges and the potatoes have broken down a little bit. Serve, with lashings of brown sauce.