This breakfast recipe is subject to another of those language difficulties that occasionally pop up when writing about American food in Britain. Here in the UK, when we say corned beef, we always mean the fatty stuff in trapezoidal tins that your Mum used to put in sandwiches with Branston pickle for your packed lunch. In America, corned beef can refer to the stuff in the cans, but usually means something more like what we in the UK call salt beef – a slab of beef brisket which is salted and preserved. (‘Corned’ means treated with corns, an archaic word for coarse grains of salt.) You can make this recipe with either kind of corned beef, but if you have the ‘fresh’ sort (from a deli, and not out of a tin), you’ll need to chop it finely before you begin.
Those trapezoidal tins have a long history – they were originally produced as military supplies, and British soldiers were eating corned beef in the Boer war. I wonder how handy bayonets are for opening tins. These days, tins of corned beef are really easy to find in the supermarket, and are very inexpensive. This is a really, really cheap dish to make, coming in at under £1 a head, and you may already have all the ingredients in your storecupboard. It’s also absolutely delicious, and a great breakfast to set you up for an active day ahead.
Finally, a word on the eggs. I used very fresh hen’s eggs, but this is an occasion where it’s really worth trying to get your hands on duck eggs, which are big, delicious and somehow very well suited indeed to this recipe. Some butchers carry duck and goose eggs – ask next time you visit.
To serve two, you’ll need:
2 baking potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
2 large onions
1 can corned beef
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chilli sauce (I used Sriracha – see below)
1 tablespoon Angostura bitters (use a tablespoon of vermouth if you don’t have any)
½ teaspoon onion salt
¼ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
8 twists of the pepper mill
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped finely
Chop the corned beef into 2cm cubes and mix thoroughly with the herbs, spices, Angostura bitters, Worcestershire and chilli sauces. Choose a reasonably sweet chilli sauce with a good amount of garlic in it – Sriracha is great here, but experiment with other sauces if you have a particular favourite, and use more or less if you prefer extra heat or a milder dish. Set aside while you prepare the onions and potato.
Chop the onions in half and slice each half finely. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over a high flame in a non-stick pan, and tip the onions in. Chop the potatoes, with their skin, into 2cm cubes. Continue to fry the onions until they begin to take on colour, then add the potatoes to the pan with a little more oil. Keep stirring every minute or so.
When the potatoes are cooked through and are turning brown at the edges, and the onions are brown and caramelising (about 15 minutes), add the beef mixture to the pan. Stir thoroughly and turn the heat down to low. In another pan, fry the eggs. (I like mine with set whites and lovely runny yolks to mix into the hash.) Turn out the hash onto hot plates, and place two eggs on the top of each portion. Eat with toast and a big mug of hot coffee.