Sending out an S.O.S.
No, I’m not singing you a Sting song. Though I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to have a hit tune from The Police playing on repeat in my head while trying to write about cream sauce. Or maybe I would…
I’m singing about chipped beef on toast. This nostalgic southern comfort food originated in the United States Armed Forces and was commonly referred to as S.O.S.
You know what? Let’s get this out of the way right now.
It stands for “sh*t on a shingle.”
This refers to the emblematic military tradition of throwing something hearty onto a slab of bread to coat the stomach and soothe the hunger pains.
When it comes to writing recipes, I try summon a story from my childhood that I playfully connect to the dish-in-question. I find a way to modernize, update, or tweak it so that it becomes an original.
Well, “sh*t on a shingle,” folks, is no Fanny original.
I’ve freshened up the sauce with some grassy herbs and replaced the standard white toast with crusty sourdough—but I did not personally grow up with this iconic meal. I do, however, know that it serves a very important purpose on southern tables and is an edible memory many veterans hold near and dear to their heart. Some fondly, and others not so much.
Still wondering where the wacky name came from? “Shingle” clearly represents toast, while the secret behind the first S doesn’t do the delicious sauce justice. A rich, velvety river of butter and milk studded with salty beef and sharp black
pepper? I certainly wouldn’t dub that “sh*t” in any form.
But I’m not the one who invented the acronym.
I’m just here to show you how to make it. The culinary recollection I most closely associate with chipped beef is biscuits and sausage gravy.
My extended family is from the northeast, so smoked salmon on a bagel is our breakfast-of-choice. But when my parents sold their business and moved me and my sister to North Carolina in 1987—it was goodbye gravlax, hello ham-flavored-everything.
Biscuits and gravy wasn’t a staple that existed within our home, but many of my classmates were Carolina natives and a sleepover at their house meant a morning filled with sharp cheddar cheese grits, slabs of country ham, and sausage-speckled cream sauce over fantastically fluffy buttermilk biscuits.
Everyone should have a southern grandmother in their lives. Even if it’s not their own.
When I first made this chipped beef, one gaze into that silky pot of white gravy and I was whisked right back to those youthful mornings with friends who taught me phrases like “hey, y’all” and valuable life lessons like never tip cows in the rain.
Seeing as the sauce for chipped beef is its most central component, it should be made with patience, love, and most importantly—chives. And while this dish is anything but fancy, it actually begins with a classic French recipe.
Don’t tell Julia.
A béchamel is one of the five “French Mother Sauces” that simply consists of butter, flour, and milk. It’s almost always marked with a sprinkle of slightly spicy nutmeg whose pungent flavor hangs out in the background reminding you that there’s something special going on.
In my opinion, béchamel is the start of most great love stories. Well, about food.
Crack open (and drizzle in) your favorite brew and a few sharp handfuls of cheddar and you’ve got beer cheese. Stir in some nutty parmesan and a little garlic and you’ve got alfredo sauce. In this case, drop in some chopped beef and delicate chives and you’ve got a concoction to drape over toast that will make all of the other carbs jealous.
I scatter some bright parsley over the top for a stunning finish (and so you don’t feel bad about eating a cream sauce as your main dish) and the funky notes of the golden-brown sourdough make a perfect match for the thick peppery gravy.
More like Showstopper on a Shingle, if you ask me.
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1⁄2-pound paper-thin dried beef slices, shredded (or deli-style roast beef, chopped)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk, lightly warmed
- 1 cup half-and-half, lightly warmed
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
- Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
- Coarse salt
- 4 large slices rustic sourdough bread, toasted
- Fresh parsley, for garnish (roughly chopped)
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter. When it begins to foam and sizzle, stir in the beef and sauté until the edges begin to crisp, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add in the flour and whisk to coat the beef. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Whisking constantly, add in the milk and half and half and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened.
- Stir in the pepper, chives, and nutmeg and season to taste for salt. Continue cooking until the sauce is thick and creamy, but still pourable, about 5 more minutes.
- Ladle the sauce over the toasts, garnish with the parsley, and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 336Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 1819mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 0gSugar: 10gProtein: 24g
- Adjust the salt accordingly based on whether you use dried beef or deli-style roast beef as dried beef is already heavily salted.
- If the sauce becomes too thick, add a bit more milk (or even water) to thin it out to the right consistency. It should melt right onto the toast instead of being gloppy.
- To add some savory additional flavors, stir 1 teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, a splash of hot sauce, and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire into the sauce when you fold in the pepper, chives, and nutmeg.
Step by Step Instructions with Photos:
Step 1 – Crisp the Beef and Make the Roux
Chop the beef into small pieces (if you’re using deli-style roast beef).
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter. When it begins to foam and sizzle, stir in the beef and sauté until the edges begin to crisp, about 3 – 5 minutes.
Add in the flour and whisk to coat the beef. Cook for 1-2 minutes. This will help cook out the raw flavor or the flour.
Step 2 – Begin the Cream Sauce
Whisking constantly, add in the milk and half and half and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened.
Step 3 – Add the Aromatics to the Sauce
Mince the chives.
Stir in the pepper, chives, and nutmeg and season to taste for salt.
Continue cooking until the sauce is thick and creamy, but still pourable, about 5 more minutes.
Step 4 – Toast the Bread and Serve
Toast the bread and roughly chop the parsley.
Ladle the sauce over the toasts, garnish with the parsley, and serve immediately.
When Meat Meets French Cream Sauce.
Whether you prepare this recipe to satisfy a sentimental craving or because you’re just curious how comforting it can be to swipe crispy toast through smooth white gravy, you’ll leave the kitchen happier than when you came in.
I reach for sourdough as my shingle-of-choice, but thick Texas Toast is another obvious bread candidate that makes an excellent vehicle.
Like nutmeg, cayenne also adds a spark to béchamel that can wake up your taste buds. Just remember that when it comes to this fiery dried chili pepper, a pinch is definitely not the same thing as a teaspoon.
I support all recipes that include creamy elements. If you’re also on team cream, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the following saucy selections: