Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creamed Beef

My Venture into Cafeteria Cuisine

I've been feeling nostalgic so I wanted to post a recipe inspired by foods served in school cafeterias. When I was researching ideas on what to post, I looked at the lunch menus at dozens of schools across the U.S. I was SHOCKED with what I saw. Today, many schools serve mostly prepared processed food such as corn dogs, chicken nuggets, and pre-made burritos. It's sad that many American kids get nothing but the equivalent of heavily processed fast food for both breakfast and lunch. In larger school districts, in fact, I'm not sure that they actually make ANYTHING from scratch. It seems like the only thing they do is heat up commercially made food items that are little more than TV dinners. Smaller school districts seemed to fare better. They often had, what appeared to be, a mixture of home-style and commercially made foods. One day very soon, I fear the good old days of lunchroom staples like homemade cinnamon rolls, freshly made meatloaf, Salisbury steaks, mashed potatoes, and fresh-from-the-oven baked cookies will be relics of the past. Sad. Wow. I'm beginning to sound like my grandmother!

Today's recipe is known by many names:
1) Sh*t on a Shingle
2) S.O.S.
3) Creamed Beef on Toast
4) Chipped Beef on Toast
5) Creamed Chipped Beef

It's an oldie but a goodie. Popularized by the U.S. military decades ago, this was also a popular item in school cafeterias when I was growing up. The dish is traditionally made with chipped beef but variations made with ground beef are also very popular today. The Navy also has their own version which uses onions, tomatoes, and nutmeg. Traditionally, the gravy is served on toast (the shingle) but may be served over mashed potatoes, biscuits, or waffles (a personal favorite). For some, waffles may sound like a weird accompaniment. I visited a restaurant many years ago that served creamed beef on waffles and, before I tried it, I thought to myself, "Nooooo. This is just wrong." So of course I had to try it. But after one bite, I was hooked! It's actually a great combination. Freaky but tasty.

Creamed Beef is hard to reinvent. It's comfort food at its finest. I started out by identifying things I DIDN'T like in Creamed Beef recipes that I had tried in the past. Chipped beef is very salty (and I'm a saltaholic!) so I don't like to use it for Creamed Beef. Some recipes seem to be VERY stingy with the meat. Sometimes, I feel like a crime scene investigator searching for evidence of meat in the gravy. Often times, the gravy was not cooked long enough for the flavors to meld and for the meat to soften. In addition, the gravy was frequently pasty and screaming for flavor. It would also be nice for the dish to have a little color. Without any color, it looks a little sad and uninteresting. Could I make a version that was worthy of being called Sh*t on a Shingle? The pressure was on.

After a lot of testing, I decided I liked adding the scallions for both flavor and color. Red chili flakes woke up the flavor and I like the little specs of red permeating the gravy. The gravy is simmered longer than many recipes – but not so long that the meat turns into baby food. In the end, the dish was tasty and comforting like good, ol' fashioned creamed beef is supposed to be.

When I was growing up, I loved my school's peanut butter bars. They were sweet and crunchy (from maybe Wheaties or Corn Flakes stirred in). That brings back great memories! What was your favorite lunchroom food when you were growing up? Leave a comment at the end of this page and let us know. I hope you enjoy today's recipe – and happy reminiscing!

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Creamed Beef (Sh*t on a Shingle)
(Printable Version)

4 TBSP butter
1 bunch scallions (white, light green, and most of the dark green parts), finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c flour
3 1/2 c milk (2% works great)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste), optional
1 1b lean ground beef
3/4 c heavy cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or to taste), optional
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the scallions and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the milk, red pepper flakes, some salt and pepper then whisk to smooth. Bring to a light simmer (but do not boil).

While you are waiting for the sauce to begin simmering, heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ground beef and some salt and pepper. Brown the ground beef – making sure to break it into small pieces as it cooks. You will not be draining the ground beef after it's browned so be sure to buy leaner cut.

When the meat has browned, pour the sauce into the pot with the ground beef and stir to combine. If the sauce had not started to simmer by the time the hamburger was brown, no problem. Throw it into the ground beef anyway. Bring the gravy to a simmer then lightly simmer for 20 minutes (uncovered) – turning down the heat as needed to keep it from boiling. Add the cream and the Worcestershire sauce (if using) then stir to combine. Return the mixture to a light simmer and heat 5 minutes longer. Too thick? Add a little more milk. Too thin? Let it simmer a few minutes longer. The gravy will thicken as it cools. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve on mashed potatoes, toast, biscuits, or waffles.

Recipe Notes:
1) If you want to lighten this recipe up, use lean ground beef or turkey. Skip the cream and just use a total of 4 1/4 cups of 2% milk. If I worked in a school cafeteria, this is how I would make it for the kids.
2) If you don't like Worcestershire sauce, feel free to leave it out. I like it so I always add extra.
3) If you are partial to chipped beef, feel free to use it instead of ground beef. However, I would not add any extra salt unless it is needed at the end.


  1. Hi Blog Buddies! Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

  2. Nice! I was always a fan of chicken fried steak day with homemade cinnamon buns for dessert.

  3. I agree. The chicken fried steak (at my school, at least) was REALLY good.

  4. This is awesome! This was my dad's "go to" dish when my mom worked late and left him in charge of feeding 5 girls. Except for the scallions, he made it exactly this way - even down to the shot of Worcestershire! This brought back great memories of SOS from my childhood. And my favorite school cafeteria foods were Salibury steak with brown gravy and those huge, fluffy hot rolls straight out of the oven. Thanks, Vince! I'm going to have to make this now.

  5. I make a brown version and serve it on mashed potatoes...I grew up with this, and now my family calls it their favorite comfort food.

    I was lucky--in my high school they had two lunch lines, each with a different menu--pigs in a blanket (home-made bread dough) or homemade tamale pie were balanced with homemade lasagna or salisbury steak.

    But the place I ate the most was a little place across the street (okay, it was a dive)...Buck's made greasy hamburgers and sold 16-ounce ICE COLD bottles of Coca Cola along with bags of fritos. The word heaven does not adequately describe the experience of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in that dingy cave waiting for your food...

  6. The food in your high school sounded great! Aren't little dives the BEST places to eat? I'm sure many famous chefs would prefer to eat in a dingy cave any day than a 5-star restaurant.

  7. My husband always talks about his grandpa making s**t on a shingle when he was younger and it's one of his really great memories of his grandpa (the name kinda does it in for me but because I love him I'll try to make it! lol)

    Thanks for sharing your recipe!


  8. I used to make SOS as one of our go to fooda before the kids were born - and when they were really young but haven't made it in years. Thanks for bringing back a great dish into my rotation. I've made it with both chipped beef and hamburger and love your addition of scallions and pepper flakes. Thanks so much.

    I always loved a hamburger goulash (sometimes more of a cheeseburger soup) one of the lunch ladies made. And I remember one lady who made a dish that was hot dogs cut up in mashed potatoes and I think cheese. Sounds incredibly weird but was oh so delicious.


  9. Melody's comment reminded me of one of my faves from school - Bologna Boats. Slice of bologna with a scoop of mashed potatoes in the center, and a square of american cheese on top. Cooked in the oven... the bologna would curl on the edges, the cheese would melt a bit, and the outside edge of the mashed potatoes would get a bit crunchy. It was inexplicably delicious. I have even made these at home, but in the microwave. Not bad, but it needs the oven to give the potatoes the crunch shell. WHY does that STILL sound so good??? lol

  10. Ahhh...sos...Perfect comfort food for a cold night...

  11. my favorite food when i was in the military...thanks for the recipe!

  12. Hey, Vince. It's me, Jeanne (aka NanaBread). It's been a month since your last post, and I just wanted to check on you. Hope you and your family are well. I wanted you to know you are missed and I'm thinking of you.

  13. Hi Jeanne! You're so kind to check up on me! I've been really swamped at work so I haven't had much time to work on my blog. Aside from that, all is well.


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