NOTE: I offer this somewhat sentimental post with thanks to the millions of men and women in the Armed Forces who have given their sweat and blood to protect our country. Thank you.
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Not too long ago, my husband and I were talking about a dish that both our fathers used to make: creamed chipped beef on toast, lovingly known in the U.S. military as “Shit on a Shingle”. It’s a very thrifty, humble, yet exceedingly quick dish to prepare, requiring only a few ingredients. It is a balm on those days when old-fashioned comfort food is needed.
In 1910, the Army included creamed chipped beef in its cookbook for the first time. The recipe was simple, using beef stock, evaporated milk, parsley and black pepper, and served over dry toast. The beef was added just before serving to keep the sauce from getting too salty. As World War II approached, the Army changed the recipe, omitting the beef stock and parsley, replacing it with a medium thickness cream sauce. What the early recipe omitted (but what was known by the cooks themselves) was that the dried beef had to be soaked overnight in water, then the water drained off in the morning.
This recipe crept into the Navy recipe books as early as 1932. Below is a page from 1932’s The Cook Book of the United States Navy. As can be seen, dried beef was used at this time, and soaking the meat was now an official step in the recipe.
Somewhere around the time of the Vietnam War, (1944’s Cook Book of the United States Navy still listed dried beef as an ingredient), the U.S. Navy made a switch to minced (ground) beef. They also added tomato sauce and mace or nutmeg. During my research, I was unable to find an online copy of the Navy’s Cook Book from the 1960s, so I can’t confirm this change; it remains a word of mouth alteration. Regardless, the current U.S. Navy cookbook has recipes for creamed chipped beef, creamed ground beef, and creamed ground turkey. The ground meat recipes add onions and worcestershire to the basic recipe, and the tomato sauce is nowhere to be seen. (Note: If you want to see the current recipes that the U.S. armed forces use, go to: http://www.combatindex.com/recipes/recipes_meat.html)
In the 1960s and 1970s, both my father and my husband’s father made this dish for our families. Rick’s dad (who never served in the military, but learned the recipe from his father, a cook in a logging camp) made the Navy version with ground beef and the addition of peas, and my dad made the Army version with chipped beef. It was always served over dry white toast, which always got soggy within minutes (blech). My father served in the Air Force, and, although I cannot find an online Air Force cookbook, I have to believe that the version he remembers is more likely from the Army, as the Air Force was originally the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army, not becoming an independent coequal entity until 1947, and my Dad served in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Fast forward to late Spring 2012. My husband had a craving for SOS, but these days we are eating a healthy diet. He challenged me to make a lower fat, healthier version of SOS. Then he dared me to make it vegan. He wanted it the way his Dad made it – with peas. I was glad to whip something up. Following is vegan SOS. Although it has been veganized, and it is a far cry from the salty, fatty version I grew up with, I believe it will do in a pinch.
Vegan Shit on a Shingle
- 1/2 roll Gimme Lean ground beef style crumbles
- 2 T Earth Balance vegan margarine
- 2 T all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups almond milk, warmed in the microwave or in a small saucepan
- pinch salt
- generous black pepper
- two handfuls frozen baby peas
- two slices toast, halved diagonally (thick white slices are best. I used rye because it was all I had in the house.)
- In a non-stick frying pan, saute Smart Ground in olive oil until crispy on the edges, breaking up the larger lumps as you go. Set aside when done.
- In a separate sauce pan, melt Earth Balance over medium-high heat and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking occasionally, until roux is light golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Whisk in the almond milk and salt, and cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Add ground black pepper to taste.
- Add in the cooked Smart Ground and two handfuls of frozen peas. Turn off the heat, leaving the pan on the burner for a few minutes, letting the residual heat cook the peas.
- Place the toast on a plate and ladle on the hot creamy mixture. Serve with hot sauce (my father’s addition).
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