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Move over, beef: Eggs are potatoes’ true love

Jeanmarie Brownson
Chicago Tribune

Goodness doesn’t get much simpler than eggs and potatoes. The combination works for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think scrambled eggs with potatoes, potato salad laced with hard-cooked eggs, crunchy fried rice topped with a soft egg. It’s perfect fare for casual entertaining, great for overnight guests during the overloaded holiday season.

I think the contrasting textures explain a lot of the combo’s appeal. Also, both ingredients exhibit a fantastic affinity for picking up other flavors — butter, oil, bacon, hot sauce, black pepper.

Loving this combination, I seek it out whenever possible. On a recent trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan, I thrilled to see corned beef hash on the breakfast menu at Anna’s House. The skillet full of crispy little potatoes and shreds of tender, rich corned beef, topped with a fried egg, proved a far cry from any canned corned beef hash of old.

The secret to this rejuvenated breakfast staple is allowing the ingredients to maintain individual textures: crispy potatoes, soft caramelized onions, toothsome meat chunks and the melting goodness of soft egg.

For just about any hash, I prefer to par-cook small potatoes to shorten the cook time and to retain moisture. The microwave cooks the potatoes quickly and makes cleanup easy. For crispness, pull out the cast-iron pan and heat it thoroughly before adding some fat to lubricate everything and promote browning. Start with a sweet onion to caramelize it, then add the par-cooked potatoes in a single, uncrowded layer — leaving space around the potatoes promotes the browning.

Once the potatoes and onions are perfectly golden, you can go in a million directions: Serve them as-is with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Crush them lightly with a potato masher, and add cooked meats or vegetables to make a kind of hash to top with eggs. Add beaten eggs, and scramble together with diced avocado for a vegetarian taco filling. Or, sprinkle the potatoes over a salad of frisee and kale with a warm vinaigrette.

The breakfast skillet that follows is delicious topped with softly poached eggs that add yolky richness. Poached eggs can be tricky, so I practice making them when guests are not around. Part of their appeal is that they can be poached in advance and simply rewarmed in a dish of hot water. No stress, however, since fried eggs with a runny center taste great here too.

For the corned beef, I simmer a small roast in water with spices on the stovetop until it is fall-apart tender. Use the slow cooker, if desired, so you can run errands while the meat cooks. Know that a 3-pound roast will yield just over 1 pound of cooked, lean meat shreds.

When pressed for time, I purchase a chunk of corned beef from the deli counter and then pull it into shreds at home. Alternatives to the corned beef could include cooked crumbled breakfast sausages or Mexican chorizo. Grilled or roasted eggplant or browned cubes of tofu stand in for meat on many occasions. I also like to use chunks of grilled salmon, or whitefish or lump crab; just be cautious not to overcook the fish on the reheat.

Serve this skillet of goodness at any time of the day. For breakfast, I accompany the skillet with fresh-squeezed juice and slices of ripe melon. When serving this for dinner, I add a bowl of sliced ripe tomatoes and pass crusty bread.

Breakfast Skillet Corned Beef Hash and Eggs

Poached eggs are great here too; eliminate the 1 tablespoon oil used to fry the eggs. See the note below.

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 3 hours

Serves: 6 to 8

1 uncooked corned beef brisket, about 3 pounds

3 or 4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon each: whole black peppercorns, coriander seed (or dill seed)

1/2 teaspoon celery seed or leafy tops from several celery ribs

11/2 pounds (small to medium) red, yellow and blue potatoes, scrubbed

4 tablespoons safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil for high heat cooking

1 large or 2 medium (10 ounces total) sweet onion(s), halved, cut into thin slices

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon each dried leaf thyme and basil

6 to 8 eggs

2 cups baby arugula leaves, optional

Handful chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

Vinegary hot red pepper sauce, to taste

Put corned beef into a deep, large saucepan. Add cold water to cover meat by 1 inch. Add bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seed and celery seed. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to very low, and cover. Simmer, turning meat occasionally, until a fork inserted comes out easily, about 3 hours. Add more water as needed to keep meat submerged. Let cool in the liquid. Transfer meat to container and add about 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Refrigerate, covered, up to several days. (I save the remaining flavorful cooking water for simmering vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and turnips for another meal.)

Meanwhile, cut potatoes crosswise in half. Cut each half into 1/2-inch wide wedges. Place in a large microwave-safe bowl, and add 1 cup water. Cover tightly. Microwave on high (100 percent power), stirring once, until fork-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain.

Remove beef from the cooking liquid, and pull enough of the meat into large bite-size shreds to yield about 4 cups.

Heat oven to 375 degrees on convection or 400 degrees conventional. Heat 2 large, ovenproof skillets (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat until hot. To each pan, add 11/2 tablespoon of the oil and half of the onion. Cook and stir until onion is golden, about 4 minutes. Stir half of the drained potatoes into each pan. Cook and stir until golden, about 4 minutes. Season each pan with pepper, thyme and basil.

Stir half the shredded corned beef into each pan. Cook and stir to heat meat through, about 2 minutes. Stir 1/2 cup of the reserved meat cooking liquid into each pan. Set in the oven to heat through, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and crack in the eggs. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until yolks are slightly set, about 1 minute more. Gently release the eggs from the skillet with a spatula.

Remove the corned beef mixture from the oven. Sprinkle with the arugula, if using, then top with the fried eggs. Sprinkle with chives. Serve right away. Pass the hot sauce.

To poach eggs: Heat 2 inches of water in a shallow medium saucepan to a simmer. Add 1 tablespoon cider vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat so the water simmers with very gentle bubbles. Crack an egg into a small cup, and then gently slip the egg into the simmering water; let simmer 30 seconds, then add another egg. Repeat to poach up to 4 eggs at a time in the pan. Eggs are done when they’ve turned opaque white and are softly firm, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to serve right away or set in a bowl of tepid water if working in advance. Eggs can hang out in the water for an hour or so. The heat of the skillet meat should be enough to warm them gently, or you can slip them into a bowl of very hot water for about 30 seconds.

Nutrition information per serving: 643 calories, 44 g fat, 13g saturated fat, 353 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 40 g protein, 1,738 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

Crispy Breakfast Potatoes

Serve these potatoes alongside simple omelets or fried eggs. Or, beat 6 eggs with a tablespoon each of cream and water and scramble into the crispy potatoes until softly set. Serve sprinkled with chives.

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

11/4 pounds (20 ounces) small red or yellow potatoes, scrubbed

3 tablespoons bacon fat, butter or olive oil, or a combination

1 medium-size red or sweet onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme)

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Cut potatoes crosswise in half. Cut each half into 1/2-inch wide wedges. Place in a large microwave-safe bowl, and add 3/4 cup water. Cover tightly. Microwave on high (100 percent power), stirring once, until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add bacon fat or one of its substitutes and the onion to the pan. Cook and stir until onion is deeply golden, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the drained potatoes. Cook and stir until all sides of the potatoes are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Serve while hot and crispy.

Nutrition information per serving: 224 calories, 10 g fat, 4g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 4 g protein, 33 mg sodium, 3 g fiber