Truth be told, corned beef isn't really all that traditional. In Ireland, they would be more likely to eat mutton or lamb. But the Irish do love their potatoes, which inspired food reporter Steve Dolinsky to seek out that one-of-a-kind breakfast staple: corned beef hash.
Breakfast is certainly a tradition. But at Meli Cafe in Greektown, the art of breakfast is elevated. Consider the humble corned beef and hash.
"One of the staple of American breakfast, if you want to say, is corned beef hash. Now, everyone has tried doing their own different way, putting their own different spin on it. Here, we just keep it simple; let the corned beef, let the potato be the star," said Frank Georgacopoulos, the chef at Meli Café.
The key is making everything from scratch. Entire briskets are first slow-cooked for hours, then hand-trimmed. The chopping procedure is both serious and comical: it takes literally eight to nine minutes of fine chopping, just to get the texture and consistency that the chef is looking for.
Idaho russetts are chopped and added to a skillet with a little bit of butter. Simple seasonings include salt, sugar, granulated garlic and onions. The finely-chopped corned beef is added, and the mixture is cooked for just a few more minutes.
The hash is rolled up in plastic, then chilled, so the butter and any rendered fat from the corned beef help keep it together. To prepare an order, a hockey puck-sized chunk is sliced off, then seared on both sides, giving it great crunch. Served with eggs and potatoes, it's a morning meal that both fuels you up and satisfies.
In River North, breakfast is also top-of-mind at the new Eggsperience Pancakes and Cafe on Ontario. This 24-hour operation goes through tons of corned beef; not only for their "Cuban Reuban" - topped with Swiss Cheese and a chipotle-thousand island - but also for their corned beef hash.
"There is some in the can that people have used in the past, but we've chosen to go this route even though it takes a good six hours to cook. Our success has been good with it and you know we're known for it; it's a really popular choice," said Nick Sakoufakis of Eggsperience Pancakes and Cafe.
Brined and steamed for hours, the whole briskets are hand-trimmed, chopped fine, and combined with russett potatoes and simple seasonings of garlic, salt and pepper. On a flat-top grill, the hash is pressed thin, cooked until browned on both sides, then served with hashed browns and eggs.
"I think everyone that I've known that's come from a an old school era loves corned beef. So, I think over the years, they've adapted their recipe to fit their needs a little," Sakoufakis said.
301 S. Halsted
New location coming soon:
540 N. Wells St.
Eggsperience Pankcakes and Cafe
33 W. Ontario