We all know hash, but ask yourself, do you really know hash? What is hash, really? Must it have potatoes? Onions? Should it be firm with a slight bit of a bite, or should be an amorphous blob of food mush that you can smash and griddle it into a pancake? Must there be meat in the hash? Is there a size requirement for foodstuff particles? Who knows? Hash is everything and nothing. Hash has rules, yet there are no rules, yet the adage that the only rule is that there are no rules is false. Hash is a chimera of a comforting dish that nourishes your soul, and a hodgepodge of random crap you found in the back of the fridge. Here are some tips for making hash perfectly every time.

Cast-iron pan

Sure, if you don’t have one you can use a regular skillet, but cast iron is best. Also, why don’t you own a cast-iron skillet? What’s wrong with you? Go fix that immediately.

Put that baby on high heat while you’re doing your prep. Skillets need a good few minutes to get to where you need them to be. Get a little high heat oil ready too, like canola or grapeseed. Olive oil is useless here. 

Onions and potatoes

Some say that the only non-negotiable in hash are onions and potatoes, which is sort of silly because that’s home fries. But breakfast can be weird like that. Pancakes and flapjacks have been fighting this war for years, and no one ever wins. 

Most recipes have you start by sautéing onions, but this is wrong and dumb. The potatoes need time over high heat to crisp, and crisp potatoes are the only potatoes that matter. Throw the onions in first and they’re going to burn. So put your chopped onions off to the side and focus.

Here is the moment when hash can seem like a chore. Potatoes need to be par-cooked before they are fried, so if you’re starting from scratch, it means you’ll have to parboil first. For me, this is too much work and I really only find myself making hash on the occasion where my fridge contains some soggy leftover French fries, as they are undoubtedly the perfect basis for hash, and possibly the best way to eat leftover fries at all. If leftover fries aren't handy, go frozen with hash browns or tater tots. Make sure you thaw them first to ensure maximum crisp. To achieve that, allow your oil to eat in the pan first until it just starts to smoke. If you don’t, it’ll get sucked into the potatoes, and the result is sad hash. 

If you don’t have potatoes, what then? Sub in another fibrous, hearty vegetable like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or all the roots and tubers. Is it technically hash? I’m not sure. I’m not passionate enough about this subject to fight you on it, but I’m sure there’s someone out there on the internet who can. 

Once your potatoes/whatever get crisp to your liking, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions. Let ‘em go for a minute or two to let their sugars cook up nice before you add the following.

Cooked meat

The point of hash is to use up leftovers, so chop up whatever you had the night before and toss it in. If you want corned beef hash but don’t make the stuff on the regular, head to the deli section and ask them to cut you some slices on maximum thickness. You can do that with anything there, like bologna, which would also be excellent here. 

If you want to use raw meat, cook it before you start. If you don’t want any meat, disregard all of this. 

Other stuff

I don’t know what else is in your fridge. If it looks like it would go well with potatoes and onions, chop it up and throw it in there. 

Seasoning

Another thing I like using up in hash are spice blends, which I always have a few of in my cabinet but rarely use for more than one or two dishes. Old Bay, poultry seasoning, blackening spice, BBQ rubs, or your own concoction will work. Once you throw it in, let it cook for about a minute while tossing your hash to help toast the spices.