|It starts here.|
Chipped beef on toast was once a mainstay on diner menus, but now it is about as rare as a plain cup of coffee at Starbucks.
For me, living in a solidly middle class family in the 70s, chipped beef on toast was simply creamed beef. But to others, like my dad who had served in the Army, it was “Sh*t On a Shingle" ("S.O.S."). I’m not sure what my Dad thought about having S.O.S. for dinner, but if it brought back bad memories of basic training, he never showed it: “This is great dear!”
Chipped beef on toast was all-too frequently served to members of the Army during World War II. Before that, it sustained families struggling during the Great Depression because it was cheap and easy to make. Beyond that, no one seems to know where it came from. Some say Pennsylvania Dutch country. However, I suspect it’s even older because we have been mixing meat, gravy, and bread for millennia.
A lot of folks down here in Alabama have either never heard of chipped beef on toast or, if they have, then they’ve never tried it. Yeah, it is assuredly a mid-Atlantic/Northeastern dish, but it is no different than biscuits and gravy. And like any other well-worn traditional dish, there are many different ways chipped beef can be served. Some folks even serve chipped beef on waffles.
So what is chipped beef you ask? Nothing more than thinly pressed, salted, dried beef. It is sold in small jars rolled up like pieces of paper. Hormel and Armour sell most of it. It is certainly not something you will find at your local Whole Foods!
And the sauce? Well, here’s where I learned something interesting. The sauce that makes chipped beef on toast what it is, is really nothing more than a homespun Béchamel sauce. Maybe chipped beef on toast is not so plain Jane after all!.
And so, now you ask, what is Béchamel sauce?
Béchamel is a white sauce made by combining hot flavored or seasoned milk with a roux. The classic recipe for béchamel calls for milk flavored by heating it with a bay leaf, a slice of onion and a blade of mace or some nutmeg. Celery, carrot, ham, and/or mushroom peelings may even be added. This is then left to steep for thirty minutes.
Armed with my new knowledge, I decided that I would tackle S.O.S. and try and improve upon it by making a Béchamel sauce and using something other than wonder bread for the toast.
But I also wanted to tackle perhaps the biggest issue with S.O.S.: saltiness. The dried beef used for S.O.S. is very, very salty. I read, however, that in the Army they would sometimes soak the beef in water overnight to leech out the salt. I tried it. It worked!
|The finished product: for better or for worse.|
At the end of the evening, the real test was whether the kids would like it. I loved it back in the day, but let’s face “back in the day” ain’t what it used to be. I stood there in rapt anticipation whilst they took their first, cautious bite. Minutes seemed to pass before they both said, “this is awesome!”
Here’s the recipe:
The Insouciant Chef’s Chipped Beef on Toast (a/k/a S.O.S.)
2 Jars of Hormel Dried Beef (2 ounces, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whole milk
2 Bay Leafs
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 slices of good, fresh bread (Italian or French bread)
For the Béchamel
Take the butter and melt it. Then add the flour and mix until you have paste. Whisk it for about five to eight minutes and then add the warm milk which has been steeped with the bay leaf and nutmeg for about 30 minutes.
Then add the beef. Mix it. And then pour it over the toast.