by Blake Stilwell
There’s a new thing happening here in the nation’s capital: Sequester. Some people don’t know what it is, others don’t know what it means. I’m not even really sure. But if the national and international news media are to believed, we’re surely headed for economic calamity. In honor of our upcoming fiscal doom and/or gloom, I’m going to make the (in)famous Depression Era favorite and American Midwest staple dish, Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast. Or as Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment called it:
SOS, S**t on a Shingle.
If you haven’t read this book (you should), you may have seen the HBO Miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. It also starred Damian Lewis, who is now on Showtime’s Homeland, Ron Livingston from Office Space, and even had David Schwimmer, who will always be Ross from Friends whether he wants to be or not. The men of Easy Company were all also real people and the incredibly astonishing things they did to change the history of the world in the book and on the show REALLY HAPPENED.
There’s a reason they’re legendary.
The US Armed Forces didn’t make it easier on these poor guys either, because Creamed Chipped Beef also really happened. The guys who bravely captured fortress Europe and liberated everything in their way were probably forced to eat it on more than one occasion. In his book, Stephen Ambrose mentions its consumption while Easy Company is still Stateside:
There’s a definitive reason it was the Army’s favorite meal for deployed troops. If a seasoned grocery shopper were to read the ingredients list, the reason would soon become apparent. Take look at this page from the 1945 Manual for Navy Cooks:
Everything on it is either really cheap or leftover from another meal! I don’t blame the military, it’s a cheap way to give troops a hot meal. As a veteran myself, I can testify that a hot meal at a chow hall is sometimes the only comfort you can get out there. I can also attest to the fact that the military STILL SERVES THIS. They just replace the dried chipped beef with ground hamburger or sausage (they try to assure everyone it’s like a sausage gravy, but it isn’t. It really is not). Thanks, Obama.
On to the recipe: It calls for 1 3/4 Gallon of dried chipped beef, 5 gallons of milk, 1 quart of fat (animal unimportant), 2 1/2 quarts of flour, 1 3/4 tablespoon of pepper, and 100 slices of toasted bread. If you’re not having a hundred 90 year old World War II veterans over for dinner later (though we all probably should be every night), you can break it down like this:
3 c Dried, Chipped Beef (this will be found in the lunchmeat section, next to bologna, where it belongs)
7 1/2 c Milk (Lactaid will work for this)
1/3 c Fat (animal still unimportant, but I recommend bacon. I always recommend bacon)
1 c Flour
1/2 tsp Pepper (or just pepper to taste, rationing is over. We won the war, after all)
Disclaimer: This is going to taste bland at first, but I really recommend you wait until the dish is cooked before adding extra salt. The beef is salty and so might the fat be (especially if you used bacon fat), so adding extra salt during prep might make this dish awful in an unexpected way.
First, chop the beef. Then melt the fat and mix with flour until it forms a smooth paste, almost like a roux. Bring the milk to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Add the fat flour, and stir til it thickens, then add the chopped beef and pepper and stir well. Simmer for ten minutes and serve over your shingles (toast).
Be warned: adding flour directly to the milk, instead of making the fat roux will result in lumpy, horribly thick cream that even a blender can’t help you fix. Be sure to follow orders on this one. It will ruin the texture of the whole meal. Speaking of texture, be sure to start eating once it’s on the toast. Nothing gets mushy quite as fast as toasted white bread.
Now it’s confession time. My mama used to make this for us all the time when my siblings and I were growing up. This dish is in entrenched in my heart. The smell of it makes me homesick (it has a very unique smell) and I will always love the taste of it because it is a piece of home. I was horrified and disappointed to see the Army Chow Hall use ground beef and/or sausage in it, but not surprised. Any one can make this. It’s a fairly simple white sauce with a salty beef twist.
The best part is if no one likes it, or you mess it up (which is still possible) it only cost you ten dollars or so to make,which is a price to be appreciated by any furloughed federal employee, not just the retired federal employees who fought the Nazis.