Labskaus is considered the signature dish of Hamburg Germany. A mixture of canned corn beef, potatoes, onions, and beets are fried into a glowing pink mush and served with fried egg, herring and pickles. It tastes better than it looks and can be found on the menu of restaurants all over Hamburg. In general it could be considered the signature dish of the entire Schleswig-Holstein area of Northern Germany, as Bremen and Lübeck also claim labskaus as one of their specialties.
There are similar dishes with similar sounding names all around the Baltic Sea. Lapskaus in Norway, lapskojs is Sweden, and skipperlabskovs in Denmark. The nickname "scouser" used for people from Liverpool comes from their local dish lobscouse, and corned beef hash in the States, especially red flannel hash from New England could definitely claim an origin in labskaus. The strange thing about labskaus is that it has no meaning in any of the languages where the dish is popular. Most etymologists believe the name comes from the Lithuanian labas kaušas and Latvian labs kauss which mean "good ladleful" or "good bowl", but neither of these countries have a similar dish as far as I know.
|Red Flannel Hash|
The nature of the dish lends itself to ready made food and canned versions are available in the supermarkets of most of these countries
|My Souvenir Can of Labskaus from Hamburg|
All of the places where a version of labskaus is found were major port cities in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is because labskaus was a sailors dish made on the ships using easily storable preserved meats and vegetables. The pickled herring which seems an odd addition to a meat stew was an easy way to pack extra protein and nutrients into the meal at sea. So the recipe was passed around place to place and started showing up on menus at taverns and inns where sailors stayed, and eventually became part of the traditional cuisine of all these areas.
Making Labskaus is Easy
Fry diced canned corned beef, cooked potatoes, pickled beets, and onions in butter until it starts to brown. At this point you could stop, top with a fried egg, and it would be red flannel hash.
Add a couple of tablespoons of pickled beet juice and a tablespoon of dill pickle juice and continue cooking until the mix becomes more homogenized. Some places add milk and cook and mash the labskaus until it is a bright pink puree, but I like to have discernible chunks and a quite dry consistency.
Top the labskaus with a fried egg, a rollmop, and sour dill pickles. I like to take a whole matjes herring and wrap it around the outside for presentation.
Maybe this dish isn't for everyone, but if you serve it with a Navy Grog cocktail you could call it a real pirates brunch.