Back in the day, before desktop publishing took over on university campuses, I was editor of my college paper, The Greyhound. We published on Tuesdays, which meant that a core group of about 10 staff members stayed up all night every Monday, banging on huge typesetting machines, cutting the type into columns with X-Acto knives, and pasting it down onto boards with hot wax (and wolfing down Berger cookies and dancing around to all kinds of alternative music and riding down deserted hallways on our office chairs…but those are stories for another day). And then, in the wee hours of the morning, three or four of us would pile into my LeBaron GTS for the 30-mile drive to the printer.
After that? The diner around the corner, punch-drunk and happy, for some comfort food on a college student’s meager budget, before a very quiet drive back to school and 8 a.m. classes.
Some 20 years later, I still crave a diner breakfast when I’m physically or emotionally worn out. Of course, I have little guys running around my house, and so my late-night grease runs are momentarily delayed. Armed with my cast-iron skillet and a few cheap ingredients, though, I get my fix right in my own house, which is often the best place to be if one is in a diner-food kind of mood.
Technically, this is a breakfast dish. But I had it for dinner last night, fresh off a long drive with my little guys and our young (read: hyper and barky) labrador retriever, and a weekend of fun away. It was perfect–comforting and delicious and easy and cheap, and I couldn’t shovel it into my mouth fast enough, if we’re all being honest.
The trick to this is a hot pan. You want your onions to caramelize and the potatoes to get crispy and dark, dark brown on the bottom. The flavors all come together into a sweet-salty, crunchy-creamy plate of pure heaven. It’s the perfect at-home diner food. I ate mine with two eggs on top, but those are optional–if you’re making this for a crowd, stop with the hash, pile it into a bowl, and serve it family-style, all by itself. Either way, you will not be disappointed.
(You can, actually, make this much healthier–skip the bacon, use a very thin coating of olive oil on the bottom of the pan for your onions and potatoes, and then go from there. Just make sure your pan is screaming hot when you start, or all the dark brown crunchy parts will stick)
To make this amazing, simple dish, you’ll need:
2 slices of bacon, in one-inch pieces (I used turkey, but any kind will work)
1/2 a sweet onion, diced
1 – 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 eggs (optional)
Get a cast-iron or other heavy skillet screaming hot, over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it’s crispy, and then fish it out and set it aside.
In the bacon grease, cook the onions until they turn soft and translucent–about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the sweet potatoes, toss them with the onion, and flatten them into a single layer in the pan. Turn your heat down to medium and let it sit about 5 minutes, until the bottom of the potatoes starts to brown. Carefully flip them over, give them another 5 minutes, and then cook, stirring every few minutes, until the potatoes are crispy outside and soft inside.
Stir potatoes up with your reserved bacon and salt and pepper to taste. For a side dish, stop now. Otherwise, mound the potato mixture into a lump in the middle of the pan and crack two eggs over it. Put a lid on it and cook it about 4 minutes, until the eggs are cooked but soft. Carefully turn out on to a plate and enjoy as an entree.