The name doesn’t do it justice. The greasy-spoon specialty that has been served to every branch of the United States Military for more than a century is nothing short of delicious and, might I say, genius.
It’s a truck stop staple that has been comforting weary, road-worn travelers and curious diners since before comfort food was a cool catch phrase. Sounds like sit, and is an i short of shiitake, served over a “shingle.” S.O.S is a creamed beef dish served over toast. The “sounds like sit” portion of the dish is said to have originated when the mess hall kept a dinner of roasted beef with a cream gravy (Boeuf le Creme de Argonne) warm for the Marine Brigade, thinking they would return soon. But the expected Marines didn’t make it back till the next morning. Not wanting to waste the food and knowing that his men were famished, the Marine first sergeant ordered that the meat and gravy be placed on dry bread and handed to each man as they came back from their well-fought battle.
The men — being very hungry — did not complain, but instead complimented the mess cooks with an appreciative, “that’s good shiitake …,” and in fact requested that the very same meal be served again, but at a table with knife and fork.
Over the next century, the dish has undergone variations and has been adapted by each branch of the military. The Army uses chipped, salt-dried beef, which is why you will sometimes hear S.O.S. incorrectly called “chipped beef.” The Navy adds beans (Navy beans of course) and tomatoes to their recipe for a
kind of white chili. The Air Force threw in the towel entirely and does not even make the dish anymore, while the Coast Guard simply eats breakfast in the
nearest Marine mess hall.
The dish is always served for breakfast within the realm of the U.S. military. Sometimes served over a biscuit, or even hash browns, S.O.S. is best when served ala U.S.M.C. … that’s right, “Semper fi.” Those jar-headed mess cooks throw down the best version of the classic, shingle-smothering goodness. Delicious with a capital Licious, the classic rendition is prepared with ground beef, cooked along with some bacon fat, flour and milk, creating a creamy gravy seasoned with a little salt, pepper and what’s-this-here (Worcestershire) sauce, all smothering a few slices of dry toast.
(A quick joke. What do you call a cow with no legs? Give up? Ground beef! Lol.)
Back to the matter at hand. S.O.S. is harder to find these days unless you are at an uber chic, retro fabulous, comfort-cliche, cool-cat chef’s joint where the chef likes to play with his or her food. Or a good ol’ fashioned “Mom & Pop,” where S.O.S is a specialty of the house and a “cash cow” (pun intended). Wherever you find it, it is my belief that S.O.S. is good sh-tuff on a shingle. Speaking of good sh-tuff, thanks to my super fabulous account specialist Donna, I came across these sensational candy-striped figs, with maybe an even shorter season than Lindsey Lohan’s trip to the big house. Vibrant, green and yellow stripes encompassing the fruit entice you to bite into the lush morsel, exposing a crimson flesh that is sweet and succulent, causing your palate to erupt. Good luck finding them. I’m having a hard time, and I’m the one telling you about them. But be on the look out. Simply served with creme fraiche or roasted along with a pork tenderloin, these sweet, juicy, figgy, teardrops of fruit are amazing.
When you do find something amazing and delicious this season, don’t be afraid to get your can on. Canning is not as hard or scary as it seems. A group of us
just canned the bounty of the season at The KITCHEN at one of my Chef Todd “Hands-On” Cooking classes. Visit the website for the recipes and to see some
delicious pictures of the event. With just three classes left in this calendar year, get hold of Katie Martin and get your name on a cutting board. Space is limited, and the regular crew signs up before they leave. Be a part of the fun!
Till next time, may your figs be sweet, your S.O.S. delicious, and your beer cold!
(Serves 8 or two hungry Marines)
½ lb. ground chuck
1 T. bacon fat
3 T. flour
2 C. whole milk
2 T. what’s-this -here sauce
tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
8 slices of dry toast
Steps: Using a large skillet (12-14 inches), crumble and brown the ground
beef with the fat and salt, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.
Mix in the flour until all of the meat is covered, using all of the flour.
Replace the skillet on the heat and stir in the milk and what’s-this-here sauce.
Keep stirring until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens cook for 3 minutes
and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.