What is Hash?

A hodgepodge or jumble; a mess or muddle. A mixture of ingredients, often leftovers. A melange.

Hash is a maelstrom of a word, meaning different things to different people at various times. Originating from the French verb ‘hacher’, meaning ‘to chop’, people don’t just make hash, but they hash something out, make a hash of something and settle someone’s hash, as well as recreationally (or so I’ve heard) smoking it.

In culinary terms, hash is a mess or muddle of a protein, a starch and a vegetable; a simple sautéed jumble of yesterday’s roast meat or even last night’s salmon. Some hashes also include a binder to hold them together, and all benefit from various flavouring elements.

The dexterous nature of hash means that it has been interpreted in different ways World-wide. Danish hash is known as biksemad (translated as “tossed together food”), in Scandinavia they have a hash called pyttipanna (pyttipannu in Finland and pyttipanne in Norway), Austrian hash is called Gröstl, and Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American cuisines, there is a hash dish called picadillo (Spanish) or carne moída (Portuguese).

The renowned Corned Beef Hash is often what springs to mind, but it is merely part of a concept which could well be a solution to the food waste crisis. As restaurateur and chef Patrick O’Connell says in the Chicago Tribune, hash is “a great idea that lends itself to whatever you have on hand.”

For those with a creative streak in the kitchen hash is a wonderfully liberating dish. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Sarah Karnasiewicz explains that the “central formula is so minimal as to render recipes nearly irrelevant: Chop last evening’s leftovers, grab an onion and potato or two, plus a generous plug of whatever fat is at hand, and stir it in a searing hot pan till crispy”.

But don’t think you can just “throw rubbish into a pan and expect that simply christening it hash will make it delicious”, she warns. Simple, hash should be, sloppy, it should not.

Getting Creative with Leftovers

Hash is also a lifestyle choice. It’s a conscious decision to get creative in the kitchen in order to cut down the amount of food being thrown out as well as the amount of food being bought in. A fridge of slightly worn veg and meat and a cupboard of sprouting potatoes may not shout haute cuisine, but hash is a good way to turn stuff from barely edible to surprisingly delicious.

John Thorne writes in his book Serious Pig that “hash is one of those dishes that to taste is to know how to make”, and he’s right. Guidelines exist to be used as much or as little as you need them, and it’s more about letting your creativity fly than sitting down with a recipe book.

For the most part, hash can’t be planned. “Hash is what happens when you plan to go grocery shopping on a Friday night”, says J. Kenji López-Alt in The Food Lab, you’re left with a mixed bag of herbs and spices and whatever leftover food you can get your hands on. It may not be pretty, but it’s among the most satisfying dishes there is.

In the parlance of Sarah Karnasiewicz: “Give me the delicious mess. Give me hash.”