Recipe: Cast Iron Breakfast Hashbrowns

I’ve eaten breakfast in many places around the world, and its fair to say that anywhere you wake up to a meal that place probaby has it’s own style of morning eats that defines it as a culture.

At home, I tend to spread a little jam on some toasted slices of sourdough bread and munch on that while I sip my fresh brewed coffee.

But I wouldn’t exactly call my toast a ”Canadian Style” breakfast.

I’ve long had an affinity for breakfast as a meal. In my previous job my boss liked to host Friday morning meetings at the local greasy spoon diner with a plate of runny-yolk eggs. Our running crew is affectionately named the “Breakfast Run Club” because we often meet outside a breakfast place for a run followed by a morning meal. I’ll be the first to wake while camping specifically to get a start on a hearty skillet-fried breakfast. And lacking a better option for another meal of the day, I’m happy to repeat breakfast for lunch, dinner, supper, or even an evening snack.

But what defines a ”Canadian Breakfast” is tough to say.

The local fast food chain A&W, famous for their root beer and hamburgers, jumped with both feet into the breakfast market about a decade or so ago and differentiated themselves from the ‘egg on a muffin’ chains by serving a fresh, plated, ”Canadian” breakfast, probably based off of any of those greasy spoon places I mentioned previously. I’ve indulged more times than I care to admit, and it’s probably as close as I can come to appropriately pinning down a breakfast that defines the country culturally.

What’s on that plate?

A pair of eggs (any style), two slices of toast, some crispy bacon strips, a duo of breakfast sausages, a pair of fresh tomato slices, and a patty of hashbrown.

Any of those items listed are foods I’d claim a confident level of skill to make… except one.

The hashbrown, as much as it’s just fried potato is finicky to get right at 7am.

the ingredients

1 or 2 medium potatoes, grated
half a small onion, chopped or grated
1 egg
15ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

the make

The grated potato needs to be washed (to rinse out a lot of the starch) in cold water and then patted dry on a towel. The egg and oil need to be beaten lightly together. Then all the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl until a thick and even potato slurry of a sort is ready to cook.

On a hot cast iron grill, I like to use my large flat top plancha, spread the mixture into a large flat slab, no thicker than a pancake.

When the edges of the beast start to brown and crisp, you can portion it into more managable chunks with the edge of your metal spatula, then flip and grill the other side until both sides are crisp and the interior is cooked to your desired doneness.

The result is kind of fried mat of potato. It’s not much of anything like the industrially shaped discs of deep fried starch madness that one would get at a local fast food place, but it’s very much like the hash served at some of my favourite greasy spoons.

Tho as much as I can cook eggs to nearly any style and have master techniques for near-perfect bacon (and shouldn’t even need to mention the almost flawless sourdough loaves I’ve been baking lately) the perfect hashbrown is still not quite on my list of confident culinary skills. I suppose if I want to be a Canadian breakfast master, I’d better fix that.

Recipe: Classy Cordon Bleu

The recipe has a different name in our collection, but as the kid pointed out half way through her portion last night “this is basically just fancy cordon bleu, right?”

She pronounced it with an impeccable French tongue, too. I guess ten years of French Immersion school has finally paid off.

But she’s not wrong.

Or, at least, not too far from correct.

Anyone familiar with the already-kinda-fancy dish cordon bleu knows that a bit of chicken breast is rolled or stuffed with some ham and swiss cheese, spiced, breaded and baked. It’s a tasty bit of chicken dish with a surprise, creamy filling.

This slightly upscale alternative (which we poached from some long forgotten YouTube cooking channels) is a bit of chicken rolled or stuffed with some fancy ham (prosciutto) and some fancy cheese (we used some boursin herb and garlic), spiced, skipped the breading, and baked.

Our classy version hits the same notes as the original: savoury chicken, a warm creamy inside, but adds some unique notes that bring it up to an elevated, but still cook-at-home, quality.

Plus I get to use my big Staub braiser.

the recipe

4 slices butterflied chicken breast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons soft herb cheese
8 slices prosciutto
4 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes
8 pieces fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken broth

After combining the salt, pepper and paprika into a rub for the chicken breasts, coat with the seasoning and lay out on a surface. The chicken is “stuffed” with a layer of each of the soft cheese, prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil, rolling it into a tight coil and holding together with a skewer or toothpick.

In a large cast iron braiser (or using a frying pan and a baking dish) fry the rolls about a minute per side in a bit of oil, then pour the mixture of the lemon juice and chicken broth into the braiser (or baking dish with the chicken) and bake for about 15 minutes at 425F, turning once.

Smoked Chops

When I was younger our summers always meant smoked pork chops.

I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, but my father had access to bulk buy cases of delicious, thick chops direct from the local processing facility. He did this once per year, ensuring that in our chest freezer lived a cardboard box containing about forty of these special treats, setting our family up for seven or eight really great summer meals.

Then I moved away, went to University, lived my life, started a family, and…

It turns out that these specific smoked meats are not as common in the local grocery store as my easy access to these delectable slabs of not-quite-pork chops seemed to be in my youth.

It also turns out that my wife had a similar experience growing up. Her family also caught the summer vibes of a slab of smoked pork. Her youth was also one of barbecued pink meats and camp meals made from this exclusive, elusive delicacy.

The ties that bind us, eh?

What’s up with smoked pork chops anyways, you ask?

Well, imagine a regular pork chop, but infused with a subtle smoky flavour resembling bacon, edging towards the succulent tenderness of a slice of ham, and all grilled over the hot flame of a barbecue or to a tasty crisp finish in a cast iron pan. Moist. Aromatic. A piece of meat nudged towards the perfection one imagines from a great barbecue, but heated and ready to be eated in less than fifteen minutes.

For some reason we were lamenting our inability to find these chops locally in recent a family conversation. Then last week it was my wife’s birthday. Not thinking anyone remembered that first convo, well, it turned out I was wrong… in a good way. Her folks showed up and (jokey gift kind of people that they are) cracked open a cooler full of smoked chops.

It turns out that if nostalgia could set off the smoke detector as it cooks in a thin layer of hot oil, my nostalgia would be shaped like a pork chop.

It was as good as I remembered. And I appreciate it now.

Pan Fried Mushrooms

I keep a cast iron pan near my barbecue for exactly one reason: my wife loves grilled mushrooms on her hamburgers.

I know very well that a well-seasoned pan atop an outdoor gas grill has a whole host of purposes, but when you have a system like this that ain’t broke… why fix it?

We eat barbecued hamburgers at least a few times per month over the summer, and without fail we slice up a couple cups of fresh button mushrooms, toss them into the blazing hot pan with a pat of butter and a clove or two of crushed garlic.

Recipe

2 cups of sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of butter

The fungi heat and sizzle and brown up with a rich, lovely aroma as the burgers grill up nearby, and everything is usually ready to eat just in time, as I swoop the plate full of patties into the house with a steaming hot bowl of grilled mushrooms alongside.

These go great with hamburgers, but I’ve been know to toss grilled mushrooms atop a steak, beside some grilled pork, as part of a veggie medley, or even just to nibble on their own.