With Veterans Day on Nov. 11, I can’t help thinking with gratitude of the many men and women who have served our country in the armed forces.
With food, of course, Veterans Day always brings to mind the quintessential mess-hall fare: chipped beef on toast.
I suspect that most of us know the dish by its nickname, which we won’t print in the paper. We’l l just have to settle for “something on a shingle” or, to use its military abbreviation, SOS.
Maybe I’ve seen too many reruns of M*A*S*H, but I was under the impression that the dish is one that veterans regard with disdain.
Recent chats with some vets, however, had me discovering what a tasty dish SOS can be.
“It was always a welcome treat,” said Steve Ebersole, 68, a Navy veteran who volunteers with many veterans organizations.
“Our cooks aboard ship made plenty. It brings back great memories of when we were in the service.”
Ebersole ate the dish at home long before he entered the service. His mother made it for his father, Clarence - also a Navy veteran.
His son Dennis, a full commander in the Navy Reserve in Virginia, is third-generation Navy and, Ebersole noted, the third generation to enjoy a warm plate of SOS.
There is more than one version of SOS.
The classic is made with dried chipped beef in a cream sauce served over toast - the shingle, in mess-hall vernacular.
Dried beef and canned meats such as Spam are military staples because they can be shipped anywhere and remain edible regardless of the conditions, Ebersole said.
The Marines, however, make SOS with ground beef, he said.
Chuck Murray, an Army veteran who lives in Dublin, said more folks are probably familiar with a third version of the dish: sausage gravy made with breakfast sausage and often served over biscuits instead of toast.
“In fact, my wife made me up a batch on Sunday,” he said.
Murray, 78, spent a career - 33 years - in the Army. No matter where he was stationed, the creamy dish - made most often with dried beef - was a standard.
“Japan, France, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam -- if you could find an Army mess hall, you would have SOS for breakfast,” he said. “That was a staple, absolutely.”
Murray, a member of the military police who spent a lot of time patrolling in the cold, was fond of SOS.
“That was one of my favorites,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for something that was more filling, especially in the cold weather - that stuck to you.”
To honor our veterans, I spent some time in the kitchen creating our own version of SOS.
To the classic cream sauce, I added minced fresh shallot and garlic, and a little thyme (fresh or dried), to give the dish more flavor before adding the dried beef.
For serving, no plain white toast would do.
Start with robust sourdough bread. Butter it well, sprinkle it with a little garlic powder or rub it with fresh garlic and pop it into the broiler to create a hearty, crunchy shingle.
In a broiler-safe dish, ladle the creamy beef over the bread; then put the whole dish back into the broiler until it gets nice and bubbly.
It’s a meal worth saluting.