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Corned beef hash is a dish that begins with corned beef, a type of beef brisket that has been specially preserved, and combines it with onions, potatoes, and spices. Brisket is often a tough cut of meat and is usually slow roasted or cooked in a slow cooker over a matter of several hours. Corned beef can also be found in cans, and this version may be used in some versions of hash.
To make a "hash" of something is an English term for either messing up a situation or just throwing something together. Corned beef hash is one of those "throw together" dishes, and it has its roots in Colonial America, when corned beef was an important staple because it was preserved. People extended dishes and made the most of what they had, so cooking the end pieces of the corned beef with diced potatoes made sense when feeding a large family. The recipe appeared in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook in 1918, although it had been popular along the railroad lines and on chuck wagons for years before.
To make the hash, a cook begins by chopping the beef into small cubes or by breaking up the canned meat. He then dices a medium onion and, if he likes shredded potato, grates several raw ones. Otherwise, he cubes two or three medium potatoes and sets them to cook (only if they are cubed). When the potatoes are done, he mixes them with the corned beef, onion, and seasonings like salt, pepper, dry mustard, and garlic, to taste. In many cases, the cook then breaks an egg into this mixture and puts it into a non-stick skillet, frying the hash until all is crispy and brown. Some people top the corned beef hash with a fried egg and serve it with toast, while others serve it with pancakes, waffles, or with scrambled eggs on the side.
Corned beef hash can also be used to stuff bell peppers, or it can be cooked with grated beets for something called "red flannel hash." It is a homey, earthy dish that has been in America almost since America has been an independent country. Cooks who have leftover brisket, too much corned beef, or just like the dish often find it to be a good meal for breakfast or dinner.