Corned beef lovers: This one's for you. Our favorite breakfast spots share the secrets to perfect corned beef hash.
Talk about corned beef hash long enough with David Becker, and two things will happen: First, the general manager of Ethyl & Tank on Campus will shove samples of corned beef into your hands. Then he'll offer to pick some up for you the next time he's in Cleveland.
Becker exemplifies the enthusiasm bordering on obsession behind great corned beef hash that lovers of the dish know all too well. He understands the sheer joy of a piping hot plate of rough-chopped, tender corned beef topped with two oozing over-easy eggs. And he feels the stomach-turning disappointment of a dried-out hash gone wrong.
Great corned beef hash takes well-seasoned and tender corned beef, the right mix of soft potatoes and an egg to tie it together. According to the pros we consulted, there's no one way to achieve this ideal balance, but the crux of the dish rests on the quality of its namesake. How potatoes and onions are sliced or seasoned doesn't matter if the beef can't stand alone. The general consensus is brisket has to be brined as long as 10 days and must be slow-cooked for at least four hours to ensure tenderness from this working muscle.
Some restaurants brine their own-Skillet and 1808 American Bistro, for instance. Others rely on tried-and-true sources for their corned beef; and many, like Lexi's, Danny's Deli and Paul's Fifth Avenue, draw from Cleveland distributors. The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches cooks up 100 pounds a week from Bower & Sons in Millersburg, whereas Katzinger's Deli uses Sy Ginsberg corned beef from Detroit.
Everyone agrees the corned beef is key, but where they differ is how they serve it: chunked, sliced or minced.
Advocates of chunky corned beef cite its more attractive presentation. "A rustic style has a nice appeal to the eye," says Scott Brown from The Best Breakfast. A thicker cut of beef matches rough-chopped potatoes. Jason Mrugacz, executive chef at Fado Irish Pub, thinks larger chunks also keep the lean brisket from drying out.
Katzinger's aims for a cohesive texture by mincing corned beef, simmering it with potatoes, onions, chicken stock and heavy cream, then frying the whole concoction on the flattop.
At Paul's Fifth Avenue, owner Paul Panzera blends two textures. Everyone likes a different consistency, he says, so he dices half his corned beef and pulses the rest in a blender. It appeals to diners who love a crispy crust on their hash as well as those who like easily skewered chunks.
The other option is slicing corned beef as if it's going on a Reuben. After a two-day sous vide, 1808 American Bistro's corned beef gets a thin slice before going into the mix. Executive chef Austin Adler says the consistency marries better with potatoes and eggs. "We like how the slices fall apart," he says, "so you can get a piece of everything on the fork." Slicing the beef keeps it moist but not chewy, adds Lilly Georges from Danny's Deli. In her experience, thick chunks aren't as moist, so she shaves it like deli meat.
Matters of personal preference aside, a good corned beef hash comes down to superior corned beef and a balanced texture, but the runny egg yolk adds the finishing touch. If you want the best hash experience, order your eggs over-easy, poached or basted. "What pulls it together is the egg yolk itself," Mrugacz says. "A lot of places want to put sauce on the dish, but the eggs are the sauce."
Nicholas Dekker blogs about breakfast at breakfastwithnick.com. His book, "Breakfast With Nick: Columbus," is a complete guidebook to the morning meal.