By Steven L. Katz, Special to Tribune Newspapers
January 23, 2013
Everyone who walks into a diner immediately feels they can be themselves. The sight and aromas of the unpretentious food that greet us are as familiar as the fare produced in generations of American homes. Hot coffee, eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, corned beef hash, soup and chili, turkey or roast beef with gravy, pudding and pie.
Yet we have come to depend on diners for some of these dishes for so long that we have lost the craft of making them. We can relearn that craft for our home kitchens by re-establishing our connection to diners.
"Diner DNA really does originate, and still share many qualities with the home kitchen," says Richard Gutman, author of "American Diner Then and Now" (Johns Hopkins University Press, $30) and director of the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
"I think that's right," says John Barrett, who spent 40 years cooking and working at his family's 19-stool diner Buddy's Truck Stop in East Somerville, Mass., now closed. "There's a lot we do in the diner that you can do at home. It's not gourmet. The ingredients are easy to buy, the prep work is the work, all the equipment is within reach, and so are the customers."
Consider the parallels. Your kitchen is open all night, breakfast is available anytime, ingredients are fresh, portions are plentiful and you're a regular customer. You can get that feel at home without going to the extremes of someone like Gutman, whose home kitchen looks like a diner's. One way is with an authentic corned beef hash.
Nothing is more iconic or a test of a diner's authenticity than this dish. At the Boulevard Diner in Worcester, Mass., built by the Worcester Lunch Car Co. in 1936, the corned beef hash is made in fresh batches weekly: "Corned Beef Hash, Weekend Only," states the menu. Says manager Lisa Carenzo, "If I make it early enough on Friday, it goes on the menu, but I only make enough to sell out, that way I know it's good."
Likewise at the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, R.I., where you might walk in knowing exactly what you want for lunch — that is until an order of corned beef hash topped with fried eggs swings by on a waitress's arm and you're hooked.
Corned beef hash is the perfect dish for home cooks to create the diner experience. The recipe here was recreated using time-proven techniques that historic American diners have staked their reputation on. You may discover that you have a diner in your kitchen too.
Diner DNA corned beef hash
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Servings: 4 large servings or 8 smaller ones
The corned beef hash at the Boulevard, Buddy's and Modern diners is crafted using long and closely held recipes that are handed down, not written down, over generations. Writer Steve Katz developed this diner DNA recipe from talking to those owners and operators about their versions.
In this recipe, the hash is prepared over two days, following the diners' method. First, the corned beef and potatoes are cooked. The next day, they are combined with onions into a mix and formed into ball-shaped portions. Those portions are cooked on a hot skillet or grill. Each portion will produce 1 large or 2 medium servings.
For authentic flavor, begin with a raw corned beef brisket. Corned beef authority Howard Eisenberg, of Kelly Eisenberg Gourmet Deli Products in Chicago, says raw corned beef brisket used for hash is not the same as deli corned beef. "It is the vacuum sealed product that is in greatest supply closer to St. Patrick's Day," Eisenberg says.
1 raw corned beef brisket, 4 pounds
4 medium white potatoes, unpeeled
1 medium Spanish onion, in 1/4-inch dice
2 teaspoons finely chopped green bell pepper, optional
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
4 to 8 fried or poached eggs
1. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Cut corned beef into quarters and again into 4-inch chunks. Place corned beef in pot. Lower heat; cook at a strong simmer, 45 minutes per pound. Drain; cool the brisket on counter until just warm to the touch. Wrap; refrigerate overnight.
2. Meanwhile, cook potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water until easily pierced with a sharp knife, 45 minutes. Cool at room temperature; refrigerate overnight.
1. Cut corned beef into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces. Cut potatoes in 1/2-inch dice.
2. For each portion of hash, place 2/3 cup potatoes, 2 tablespoons onion and 1/2 teaspoon green bell pepper in a food processor; pulse 10 times quickly.
3. Add a quarter of the corned beef (about 1/2 pound); process in 30 quick pulses. Transfer to a bowl; add 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Mix together; form into a large ball. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to cook. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
4. Heat a stovetop griddle or heavy skillet over medium high heat; coat surface with small amount of canola oil. Place a ball of corned beef hash on surface; press flat with a spatula, spreading over bottom of the skillet. Increase heat to high; cook, undisturbed, 5 minutes. Flip; cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes. Mix and fluff to desired combination of crisp and moist hash. Repeat with remaining portions.
5. Serve each portion topped with an egg; or divide each portion in half to serve two people, topping each with an egg.
Per serving: 607 calories, 42 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 307 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 42 g protein, 3,490 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
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