One of my favorite comfort food dishes is Hoppel Poppel, available in a handful of diners across the Midwest. A solid recipe and write-up on this dish is available from food writers Jane and Michael Stern, former columnist for Gourmet magazine and the authors of Roadfood and Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food available here. They found Hoppel Poppel on the menu in Iowa and again at Benji’s, one of my favorite delicatessens in Milwaukee. Jo’s Cafe in Milwaukee has the same dish, calling it Hoffel Poffel. It seems that the origination is likely a dish served for breakfast made of the prior evening’s leftover meat and potatoes that is traditional in Germany. Hoppeln is apparently a German word for hop as in the skittering hop of a bunny. It is not far removed from the New England tradition of Red Flannel Hash.
Regardless of etymology, the dish consists of four essential parts: potatoes, meat, eggs, and cheese. Onions and herbs are frequent additions. In the German origination, the potatoes are the leftover boiled potatoes and the meat is the diced meat from the previous evening’s meal. In the Great Lakes tradition, the potatoes are par-boiled then diced, the diced meat is some form of preserved meat (salami is the most prevalent), diced onions are often added as the ingredients crisp up in the skillet and then eggs are scrabbled into the pan and topped with cheese. In most versions the dice is fairly large and the cheese is cheddar.
The variations on this theme are usually driven by the fare of the previous evening, but some of my favorite variations are custom-made from scratch. The variation at Hinterland in Milwaukee on a recent visit included sweet potatoes, bacon, and tiny, spring-fresh brussel sprouts topped with a soft fried egg. The salty smoke of the bacon, the sweetness of the potatoes, the slight bitter crunch of the greens, all topped with the runny yolk of a perfectly prepared fried egg was truly delightful. Most often I prepare this dish with leftover baked Yukon Golds, Nueske’s bacon, shallots, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, sea salt, fried egg, topped with an aged cheddar, such as Widmer’s. After an epic feast including leg of lamb that I once prepared with my good friend Tom from Minneapolis, the next morning featured a hash with leftover roasted lamb as a starting point. Amazing. We joked later that to write the recipe it would have to start with – “First, roast a well-seasoned, whole leg of lamb for three hours. Allow it to cool over night. Carve off the bone and dice…”. Won’t see that recipe on the Food Channel.
As a representative of Great Lakes Cuisine, this dish has origins in the Germanic tradition, has been adapted to local ingredients, utilizes preserved meats, and is a great value as it often is a way to utilize the best parts of the previous evening’s meal. These are the dishes that provide both comfort and inspiration.