The diner in your kitchen
Get back to those comforting tastes with corned beef hash
Try making authentic corned beef hash. Nothing is more iconic or a test of a diner's authenticity than this dish. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)
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