A Brief History of Red Flannel Hash
St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone — and what are you doing with all that leftover corned beef? Well, at my house, we’re cooking up a big batch of Red Flannel Hash. You can make regular hash with just about anything — it’s basically bits of chopped meat and potatoes fried in butter. But Red Flannel Hash is the most succulent version of this traditional American dish.
Corned beef is the shining star in this meal – it’s super salty, and tender, and the addition of finely chopped beets, with their natural sweetness, makes the corned beef taste even better. The rosy color from the beets is what gives this hash its name – Red Flannel. But there is an odd story that says this dish came into being in Vermont during the Revolutionary War. Apparently the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen grew so desperately hungry one winter, they added their red flannels in with their potatoes to make hash. I highly doubt this story, because no New Englander would ever give up the warmth and comfort of their long, red underwear in the middle of winter.
Almost 70 years ago, red flannel hash saved the North Unitarian Chapel Society in Woodstock, Vermont. A group of young mothers wanted to reopen the doors of their church, which had been closed since 1933. They raised money by hosting church suppers, bazaars, and craft shows. One such supper held in 1946, which featured Red Flannel Hash, was so successful that it paid the salary of their new preacher and kept the church heated in the winter. To this day, the Red Flannel Hash Supper is held every year in Woodstock, the first weekend in November.
Most New Englanders are very particular about their Red Flannel Hash. Some say it must be cooked with eggs, and that it’s a breakfast dish. Others believe it’s a supper dish, and should be served with baked beans and cole slaw. At some New England diners, your waitress will bring you a small pitcher of apple cider vinegar to sprinkle over your hash. Frankly, I’m fond of all of these things, and I would eat Red Flannel Hash around the clock if I could.
When you make your Red Flannel Hash, you want all of your ingredients to be cold, and finely chopped by hand. Do not use a food processor, or your hash will come out kind of pasty. The traditional ingredients are corned beef, boiled potatoes, cooked beets, and onions. Some people like to add chopped greens, garlic, and other leftover vegetables but I think the hash is best when you keep it simple. I add a small amount of heavy cream to the hash to bind it, and a cast iron skillet is a must for this dish, if you want to get a good crust on the hash. You must resist the urge to toss it around in the pan too much, because you’ll end up with a steamed version of hash instead of fried, with all those lovely, crispy bits.
At my house, after St. Patrick’s Day, you will find me curled up on the couch, decked out in my red flannels, eating a plate of Red Flannel Hash. And maybe drinking some leftover green beer, too.
Melt butter in a cast iron skillet. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and then press into the skillet with a spatula and cook over medium heat.
When the bottom of the hash begins to get crispy, flip the hash over and continue to cook as before until hash is crisp to your liking. If desired, top with chopped beet greens leftover from your cooked beets.