|Shit on a...toad in a hole. © Ryan Schierling|
The dish has throngs of fans and legions of detractors. It has an oft-edited expletive in its name. The acronym SOS has some pretty legendary U.S. military history and gravitas, and I'm not talking about the Morse code distress signal.
I struggled with this one for a while, because I love a good doody reference (see Caddyshack) but I'm extremely wary of over-processed, pressed, salted, sugared and sorbitol'd beef simulacrum. I also have a Navy boot-camp association with this bastardized biscuits & gravy that is less than favorable.
The edited, safe-for-children name is Stuff On a Shingle, Same Old Stuff or the puritanically-unimaginative "Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast." Toast is toast. The gravy base is a classic French mother sauce, a delicate béchamel beaten over the head with bits of bad beef.
It has been on all branches of the military's menu, in various incarnations, since the early 1900s. The chipped beef version officially entered the Army’s recipe database with the 1910 publication of the Manual for Army Cooks, calling for dried chipped beef, beef stock and evaporated milk, a flour and butter roux, chopped parsley and ground black pepper.
The current creamed chipped beef recipe, straight from the Armed Forces Recipe Service Index (# L 052 00) calls for chipped beef, a margarine and flour roux, nonfat dry milk (reconstituted) and ground black pepper. Having – like every other shell-shocked new recruit – fervently and indiscriminately shoveled SOS down in Navy boot camp, I can tell you that this was not the version served. Instead, we apparently got AFRS # L 030 00, which has no roux but is 90% lean ground beef, onions, flour, salt and pepper, warm water, Worcestershire sauce and nonfat dry milk. Sounds yummers, right? I ate it a few times, and the disgust with the glutinous, chalky mess (imagine choking down beef-flavored Elmer's Glue on thick cardboard) compounded until I decided to skip subsequent breakfast servings and just go hungry until lunch.
So why bring this egesta back to the fore? Why pick at the edge of a malicious, malignant food memory? Because I believe in second chances, and I also believe that just because something is entrenched in culinary history (even bad military culinary history) doesn't mean it can't still evolve into something delicious.
I wanted an SOS that I could call my own, something a little different, something a little bit dirty South. Okay, a little bit dirtier South. So I used wafer-thin carne seca instead of chipped beef, which – near as I could figure, and near as I could find – is a disgusting preserved and pressed meat-simulacrum only available in Armour brand 8 oz. jars. Carne seca, a northern-Mexican preparation of dried beef, was at least honest with nothing but dried meat and spices, found at our nearby Fiesta market in the meat department. The gravy was proper cream gravy, but with minced fresh habanero pepper sauteed in the roux butter. The shingle, well, I couldn't leave that alone either. Texas toast, with a jumbo egg cooked in the cut-out center, American toad-in-a-hole style. Julie and I call them "hobo eggs." The result is a rich and buttery huevo in toast, covered with a creamy gravy that is milk sweet with a low, lingering habanero heat and salty, bite-y beef.
It truly surprised me – this was not the Same Old Stuff. It was a comforting, complex, complete package that made me wish I'd given SOS a second chance a long time ago.
Shit On a Shingle
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced
whole milk, added to the gravy consistency you like (about 2 cups)
2 oz. carne seca or plain beef jerky, shredded by hand to bite-size pieces and soaked for 15 minutes in warm water
Put the butter into a skillet over medium heat. Add minced habanero pepper and lightly saute for 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour into the butter, then whisk until incorporated. You're working for a blonde roux, so stir with the whisk for a minute or two. Add whole milk a bit at a time, whisking constantly until 2 cups is added and there are no lumps. Bring gravy to a simmer and add carne seca. Cook for a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally. If gravy is too thin, continue to reduce over medium heat until the consistency you like is achieved. If gravy is too thick, whisk in a bit more milk to where you like it.
4 pieces Texas Toast bread, with a round hole cut out of the middle of each
4 large eggs, room temperature
Using a small biscuit or round cookie butter, cut a hole in the middle of each piece of bread. Spread butter on both sides of the bread. Place buttered bread on a skillet over med-low heat, and let sizzle for 10 seconds. Crack an egg into the hole in each piece of bread, and cook until the egg is just beginning to bubble. Flip each piece of bread/egg over and cook on the other side to however you like your eggs (over-easy is recommended for optimum oozy pleasure).
Plate hobo eggs, ladle gravy over each and pray your cardiologist doesn't find out.