The table as the gravitational center of our lives.

Creamed Chipped Beef (S.O.S.)

SOS

“An army marches on its stomach.” -Napoleon Bonaparte, French military and political figure

Until I was 9 years old, my family lived in South Bend, Indiana.  My Father was a graduate of the school of architecture at University of Notre Dame and my Mother was born and raised there.  Having moved to Colorado for my teenage years and then to the East Coast, it’s obvious in retrospect that there is a certain something about the food that my grandparents and Mother raised my sister and I on in the Mid-West.  Maybe it’s just the fond childhood memories talking, but Mid-western food is unique in its frugality, comfort factor, nuance, and the fact that it’s just a little bit trashy (in a good way).  Creamed Chipped Beef is a perfect example of this, and if you’re a Mid-Westerner yourself, chances are you are quite familiar with this classic.  You might even roll your eyes, even while your heart is smiling at the thought of it.

Many people, including my Uncle Rick and my late Grandfather Vincent, refer to this recipe as “S.O.S.,” which happens to stand for “Shit On a Shingle.”  That amusing nickname actually comes from military slang, as this was apparently a common dish served during World War II, no doubt for it’s simple, inexpensive ingredients.  Dried, salted beef is cheap and it keeps for a long period of time, flour is about as basic as it gets, and ditto bread and butter.  It takes about 5-10 minutes to make, no matter what the quantity.  Ok, ok, and S.O.S. kind of looks like a bunch of slop slapped on top of some toast.

I can’t tell you how many mornings my Mom made this for me growing up.  It’s also probably one of the first things I learned to make myself.  Last year on a hugely nostalgic and meaningful trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, my sister and I were delighted to find it on the breakfast menu at a great mom-n-pop roadside diner (and when I say mom-n-pop, I mean it – there was no one else under the age of 50 to be found).  I’ve been dying to re-create and re-visit it in my own kitchen ever since.  Sadly, the traditional, crappy dried beef that my mom always used in this recipe is virtually impossible to come across in New York City.  I can’t find it anywhere.  Therefore, in the interests of both availability and “classing it up” a little, I’ve decided to substitute with Italian bresaola, which is actually pretty close (and dare I say more delicious even)!  I’ve also done a more classic French Béchamel for the sauce, and used good, properly pan-toasted bread instead of the classic toaster white.  Shit On a Shingle no more!  How about, erm, Sass On a Shingle instead?

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons of butter

3 tablespoons of flour

About 2 cups of milk (we used 2%)

Pinch of nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

8 slices of Italian bresaola, cut in chiffonade

About 4 slices of toasted bread, torn by hand into pieces roughly 1″ in size (we used French baguette from the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, pan toasted it in a bit of melted butter, and broke it into pieces as was the strict tradition in my family)

Instructions:

1.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  As soon as all of the butter melts into a liquid, add the flour and whisk together until it forms a paste (called a roux).  Continue to cook over low heat for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly.

2.  Remove from heat and add about 1/4 cup of milk, whisking together to incorporate.  Put saucepan back on the fire and bring to a gentle simmer.  Continue to add milk, roughly 1/4 cup at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.  This should take about 5 minutes or so.  (You don’t want the milk/roux mixture to boil, you just want to keep it at a nice slow, gentle simmer until the sauce just naps the back of a spoon.)

3.  Remove pan from the fire and add nutmeg and cayenne pepper.  Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  At the last minute, stir in the chiffonade of bresaola and the parsley.  Spoon the mixture over the pieces of toast and serve.

Yield: 2 large or 4 small servings of the meal that molded my young, impressionable mind

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  1. Caren

    Wow! This brings back memories. I will have to make this soon for my family. My mother made this frequently when I was a kid and to be honest, it was one of my favorites. Thanks for this!

    Sep 19, 2009 @ 8:55 am


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