Shameless Chef

The Shameless Chef: Shit On a Shingle

I don't know if the soldiers still eat "chipped beef on toast" in the U.S. military; we'd have to ask Craig Hlavaty, Rocks Off's resident ex-military running dog. However, they used to, with the dish earning the nickname "shit on a shingle" or simply "S.O.S." sometime around the second World War. It was actually suggested by my mother, who I hit up for ideas on what to fix for this increasingly outlandish column. The idea of making something simple which was almost certainly served to both my paternal grandfather and maternal step-grandfather during their service in World War II greatly appealed to me, especially since she told me that my brother loved it as a child, but I never cared for it. Meanwhile, it features several of my favorite things as ingredients, and I was intrigued to see if I would still find it off-putting.

You will need:

  • One can of corned beef hash, which is ground-up corned beef with diced potatoes.
  • English muffins or bread for toast (both are considered traditional "shingles"). I chose English muffins of the sourdough variety, being the only kind of English muffins I can stand.
  • some kind of fat, traditionally butter or clarified butter, sometimes vegetable oil or lard. I used butter.
  • flour
  • optional: Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and cheese.

Mom told me that the particular shit on a shingle she (and therefore my brother and I) ate as a child was garnished with ketchup and cheese. However, upon doing a little bit of online research, I discovered that a more traditional variety is served with Worcestershire sauce and a creamy roux sauce, which -

Christ, calm down! I am so tired of you hyperventilating every time I mention a new sauce. Roux sauce is just flour and fat, okay? It really couldn't be less complicated, they just gave it a fancy-ass French name because that's what you do in cooking when you don't want people to know how simple something is. This is how Vienna sausages on crackers got to be called "hors d'oeuvres".

Anyway, unable to choose between the S.O.S. with a world history and the S.O.S. with a family history, I decided to prepare both (disregarding that authentic traditional shit on a shingle is served with chipped beef, not corned beef hash, because what am I, an actual fucking cook? I got other things to do).

For the roux sauce, I melted a 1/4 stick of butter in a sauce pot and slowly added 1/4 cup of flour, stirring all the while. To get the proper consistency, I then added about a cup of hot water, until the sauce took on a gravy-like consistency.

While letting the roux sauce simmer on low heat, I dumped the contents of the can of corned beef hash into a Corningware casserole dish and splashed a little bit of Worcestershire sauce into it, to keep it from drying out. I then covered it with its glass lid and heated it up for about two and a half minutes in the microwave. Yes, the microwave. I mean, at this point, we're going to be eating canned food covered in what is essentially a liquefied dumplin'; are we really going to pretend to be concerned about our heating methods? It may matter with other dishes... but not this one.

I cut two English muffins in half and toasted them briefly in the toaster, before piling a couple tablespoons of corned beef hash onto them. One S.O.S. I covered in ketchup and cheese, the other I flavored with Worcestershire sauce and the roux sauce exclusively.

I could have melted the cheese in the microwave, but I was starving and didn't really give a shit. And here's the best part: both S.O.S.'s were really tasty. I think I preferred the traditional variety with the roux sauce, but who knows how I would feel on a different day, it was that close. I can easily see how the roux sauce and the beef would constitute a filling, hearty meal for soldiers after a long day of trudging around in England's cold, pissy, sunless weather. I can also see how the ketchup version would appeal to kids enough to make them forego their usual requests for mac 'n' cheese or pizza.

Either way, it sure as hell beats an M.R.E., which you can obtain at Col. Bubbie's Military Surplus in Galveston for independent comparison, if you wish. But take my word for it: they are godawful. The shit on a shingle-eaters back in the old days didn't know how good they had it.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Seaborn Gray