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Dec '10

In BBQ Hash We Trust

Southern Comfort Foods: Sweet Potato and Country Ham BBQ Hash Recipe

Book Excerpts and Food Articles by Doug DuCap

“If there was no faith there would be no living in this world. We couldn’t even eat hash with safety.”
–Josh Billings (AKA Henry Wheeler Shaw)

Despite our sometimes vast cultural or geographic differences, the foodstuffs we humans eat can be grouped into the following broad categories:

1) Meat & Poultry
2) Fish & Seafood
3) Dairy Products
4) Vegetables & Grains
5) Don’t Ask

The last group (one of my personal favorites) includes — in addition to most hot dogs — things like Scottish Haggis, Pennsylvania Dutch Scrapple, Mexican Tacos de Cabeza, and many, many other tasty dishes from around the world whose contents, it is widely said, are best left unexamined (hence the suppression of inquiry) in the belief that what you don’t know can’t make you retch violently.

It’s easy to see that there’s a homespun sort of common sense to that notion. Unless, of course, you’re the type who likes to torment others:

Guest: “These sausages are very unusual!”
Host: “Do you like them?”
Guest: “Yes, I do. I think they’re delicious, actually! What’s in them?”
Host: (quietly grinding homespun common sense under his heel) “Well, they’re the specialty of an island off the coast of Tasmania. You see, the natives take the gall bladders and prostate glands of these giant indigenous muskrat-like creatures, dry them in the sun, and…”
Guest: (pale and bug-eyed) “UR-UR-URGHHH! AAAAH-URGHHH-ECHHHH!”

For some reason, Carolina barbecue hash is often unfairly tossed under the Mystery Meat Bus. Granted, it is a bit unexpected on first encounter; hash is thought of as a more or less solid food, and is usually made up of diced meat of some kind along with a diced root vegetable, most often potatoes (as in corned beef hash) and diced whatever else (like the beets in red flannel hash.) In any case, it is, most emphatically, not a liquid.

No doubt about it, liquid hash is a tough idea to wrap your brain around. But the origin of the word ‘hash’, the Old French hacher, meaning to chop up, doesn’t indicate anything about stopping. One doesn’t even need to stop at the liquid stage. Theoretically, scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland could, at this very moment, be hard at work making Quark-Gluon Hash.

But questions about where they would procure sub-atomic fried eggs to top their hash with are not relevant here. What’s important is clearing up these misunderstandings about Carolina barbeque hash.

The Myth: The Ingredients Are Mysterious, Unspeakable, and/or Unnamable

Here’s what some folks believe the recipe for barbeque hash must look like:

1 extra large heap of guts
3-4 heads (preferably pork, but any will do)
12 hooves
10 lbs of anything else lying around
4-6 of anything that stops moving long enough
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

In a hellaciously large black cauldron, combine the first six ingredients (guts through onion.)
Boil the everlovin’ tar out of the whole mess. Grind thoroughly using a Mercruiser 200 hp Outboard Immersion Blender.
Adjust seasonings; serve over white rice. Laugh up sleeve at anyone fool enough to eat it.

The Fact: Back in the day, barbecue hash may indeed have been something of a ‘catch-all’ dish, but no more. It’s increasingly rare to find hash made with head meat or any sort of offal. Those few BBQ joints that do add liver or ears or cheek have a devoted following, including myself (for instance, I find the barbecue at the well-regarded Roger’s Bar-B-Q House in Florence, SC to be acceptable but not exciting. On the other hand, their peppery hash — redolent with liver and lord knows what — is absolutely off the chain.)

What really goes into hash? The ingredients are shockingly (perhaps even disappointingly) simple. There are additions and variations, of course, but it’s basically just pork barbeque, potatoes, onions, and some tomato product — most often catsup. Chop or grind it all up, add some salt, a good handful of black pepper, some water or stock, simmer the heck out of it, and you’ve got your basic barbeque hash. That’s it. The resulting reddish slurry is ladled over rice and forms one of the pillars (the others being coleslaw, pickles, and sliced white bread) of the pantheon of barbeque side dishes. (Note: we’re talking here about the purist’s pantheon, i.e., the roadside shack or old time version; other places may offer a dozen tasty side dishes like stewed okra, proper baked mac & cheese, collards cooked with smoked neck bones, etc.)

Pit masters (i.e., those who oversee the long, slow smoke-cooking of meats) are often proud and quite protective of their barbeque hash. Most have a secret ingredient or three (like spicy mustard, hot pepper sauce, or Worcestershire) that makes their hash (of course) the best. It’s the rare pit master who is careless or indifferent about his hash — and they don’t stay in business long anyway.

It all boils down to this: hash isn’t mysterious or even complicated. It does, however, require care. The ideal Carolina barbeque hash should be peppery, a bit tangy, distinctly smoky, and ineffably comforting. It should be the soft, savory, and reliable companion to the gleaming, slightly chewy white rice that sits next to your pile of tender, slow-cooked pork. It should be there for you, to soothe and delight you whether you’re 8 months old, cranky, and toothless or 80 years old, cranky, and toothless. Barbeque hash should be, ultimately, something in which — despite the vagaries and tumult and disappointments of life — you can have faith.

Hugging the Coast Blog Fast ForwardPlease join us soon to read our newest food and cooking feature on HuggingtheCoast.Com: Sing a Song of Shrimp: 41 Party Friendly Shrimp Recipes For Entertaining.

Hugging the Coast Blog Fast Forward

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(Photo Credit: Southern Comfort Foods: Sweet Potato and Country Ham BBQ Hash from Doug DuCap Food and Travel on Flickr.

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