The woman who cooked for me when I was growing up was raised in Oklahoma. This by itself explains a great deal of how I turned out the way I did, but considering only one characteristic in particular it surely explains my love for cream gravy.
Cream gravy was a standard component of the cuisine of our household. We had it with pork chops and fried potatoes. We had sausage gravy poured over buttermilk biscuits. We had cream gravy with ground beef on bread for an economical dinner. And we had it with sliced dried salted beef on toast. It is not an accident that I love cream gravy. It is an embodiment of home and hearth. It is comfort food at its finest.
So when I was a young man, and realized that a large chunk of the population referred to creamed chipped beef on toast as “S.O.S.”, or “Shit on a Shingle”, I was shocked. I could rationalize that this was surely caused by the treatment of the dish by military commissaries, because industrial cooking can ruin anything, but still…S.O.S.? My beloved cream gravy? Compared to crap?
After all, I still crave it once in a while. My wife is very fond of sausage gravy, so on special occasions I’ll make biscuits and a tureen of sausage gravy for breakfast and we’ll indulge. But I rarely make creamed chipped beef.
The October 2006 issue of Saveur magazine, my favorite cooking periodical, included a recipe for S.O.S. Seeing the recipe, and the full color picture of a plate of creamed chipped beef that went with it, I was struck with a craving I could not deny. I waited until my wife and daughter were going to be out of the house for dinner, and went shopping.
I purchased a jar of dried beef, a quart of 3.8% milk (I don’t care what anyone says - you CANNOT make decent gravy with skim milk), and a loaf of (gasp) white bread. It was from a local artisanal bakery, but it was still white bread. Mea Culpa.
The Saveur recipe is adapted from the 1945 Manual for Navy Cooks, and I cut the amount in half for my own use. It differs from the way Mom used to fix it, in that you stir a paste of flour and oil into hot milk, rather than starting with a roux. This gives it a lighter flavor, a whiter color, and (dare I say it) a more glue-like consistency. “Sticks to your ribs” is more than colorful hyperbole in this case.
While my son ate a hot dog, I prepared a saucepan full of creamy beefy goodness. When it was as thick as mud, I ladled it onto hot toast slices and tucked in.
Bliss. There’s nothing quite like the food of your childhood.