My favorite rescue for leftover roasted meat or poultry is hash, by which I mean a mess of skillet-cooked onion, potatoes and/or root vegetables into which I toss the diced leftovers. Last night’s hash was inspired by some rare steak I’d roasted a couple of days before. I tossed it into a caramelized braise of diced onions, turnips and celery root, brightened with thyme and slivers of lemon zest. I made it while talking via speakerphone to friends who were also cooking dinner. After cooking together, we sign off to eat our suppers, sometimes texting quick photos of what we made.

When my friend saw the slap-dash photo of my hash, and then asked how to make it, I took it as a sign to publish the method on Improvised Life.

I have many hash improvisations in my repertoire, all created using a basic formula I devised years ago and what was on-hand in the moment. I’ve made wonderful hashes with Wild Turkey, Parsnips and Parsley Root; Roast Pork and Sweet Potatoes; Roast Beef, Potatoes and Onion. Lamb, Potato, and Celery Root with Rosemary is a favorite.

Hash is the perfect cold weather dish when roots are in abundance.

photo: maria robledo
photo: maria robledo

You can plug in just about any leftover roast, including chicken, turkey, beef, veal, venison, lamb and pork. If you have no leftovers, you can buy roasted meats by the pound. You can make hash with one kind of root vegetable or only potatoes; figure roughly 2 pounds total.

If you happen to have 4 cups of leftover cooked vegetables, simply dice them, and add them to the sautéed onion, omitting the raw vegetables, and taking over from the point in the recipe where the vegetables are cooked.

Guide to Improvising: Hash

The trick to a good hash is to not add the already-cooked meat or poultry too early or it will toughen and dry out: just enough to heat it through. You can toss it right into the hot vegetables, or toss the meat separately in a little of the bacon fat that has been flavored with garlic and herbs to brighten up its flavor.

Serves about 3

2 slices bacon or pancetta (1 1/2 oz) OR 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 1/4 pounds root vegetables, such as parsnips, celery root, parsley root, turnip, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)

3/4 pound red potatoes or Yellow Finns, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups), rinsed in cold water and drained

About 1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon each minced fresh thyme and rosemary

2 1/2 cups cooked lamb, pork, beef, turkey or chicken (about 12 oz) cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Two strips lemon zest, slivered (optional)

In a large skillet, over moderate heat, cook the bacon until it is crisp and the fat has liquefied. With a slotted spoon, remove the brown bits and drain on paper towels. Spoon out 1/2 teaspoon of the fat and reserve.

If you don’t want to use bacon, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the olive oil to the pan.

Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until it is tender and golden brown. Add the root vegetables and potatoes and toss to coat with the fat. Add the water and salt and cover the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated and the vegetables are tender but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes. If the water is evaporating too quickly, add a couple of tablespoons more to the pan.

Uncover and sauté the vegetables, tossing and stirring frequently, until they are  caramelized, about 5 minutes.

While the vegetables are browning, in a small non stick skillet heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon bacon fat over moderate heat. Add the garlic and minced herbs and sauté, stirring constantly, until the garlic is soft but now browned. Add the meat or poultry, and sauté, tossing the pieces until they are browned and heated through. Sprinkle with a little salt. Add to the root vegetables, along with the chopped parsley, and toss to combine. Grind over plenty of fresh pepper to taste. Serve at once.

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