Nostalgia . . . . . n. 1. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. 2. The condition of being homesick; homesickness.
It’s not always easy being an expat. When in the company of British people I don’t have a common cultural reference point when people my age talk about TV programmes and events which shaped their collective lives. But it is fascinating to learn about things like The Magic Roundabout, Tony Hancock and The Winter of Discontent. In a funny way though, I never felt like I “fit in” in the 35 years I lived in Southern California, so it feels natural to be a misfit over here too. At least now, I have a bona fide reason.
But sometimes I long for childhood foods which I just can’t find over here. I grew up in the 1960’s, the Age of TV Dinners and Processed Food, but luckily both of my parents cooked from scratch. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and started cooking when I was 8 or 9. I was home by myself a lot and very happily made good things to eat whenever I felt like it. I hear people talk about how deprived they were as children because Mom wasn’t there to make chocolate chip cookies when they got home from school. Heck, my Mom had a job, so I made my own cookies!
Anyhow, I recently had a hankering for Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast (or as it’s known in some circles, “Shit on a Shingle,” more politely abbreviated to “S.O.S.”) a couple of weeks ago. That classic American comfort food made from processed, salted beef in a cream sauce. Served over toast points. With origins in the South as a breakfast item, traditional creamed chipped beef is most often made with dried, shelf-stable slivers of intensely salty beef. When I was a kid, we always had a package of Carl Buddig Beef in the fridge. I used to make this for breakfast or lunch all the time.
I had a look on some of the American food websites and forums to discover that I can’t get Buddig beef over here,
but someone suggested using Bresaola (Italian air dried beef ) as a substitute.
A couple days ago when I was shopping at Sainsbury’s, I also found this finely sliced salt beef in the cooked meat section and got a pack of each to do a comparison.
So this morning, I made Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast for the first time on British shores. I refreshed my memory with a recipe in The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. She describes it as a ‘comforting, old-fashioned supper dish’ but what does she know? Any Southerner will tell you that it’s for breakfast!
Creamed Chipped Beef
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 8 oz milk
- 4 oz dried, chipped, processed beef, cut into strips
- pepper to taste
- whole wheat toast, cut into points
Melt the butter in a skillet, stir in the flour to make a paste. Slowly whisk in the milk to form a smooth sauce. Add the beef and gently heat until it thickens to a creamy consistency. Season with pepper and serve over toast.
Some people leave the toast in one piece, hence the ‘shingle’, but I think it’s more elegant to cut the toast into points. That’s part of the experience too. Holding a hot piece of toast and cutting it up onto a plate.
It was good and Steve really liked it, but I felt that something was missing.
It was slightly bland. It lacked piquancy, that certain je ne sais quoi.
Maybe because I used unsalted butter or the beef wasn’t as salty?
I looked up a couple of recipes online and discovered the missing ingredient.
Worcestershire sauce!! That’s it. We had a bottle of French’s Wershter Sauce which is the final addition to a good plate of Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast.
The next time I whip up a batch, I’ll stir in some Worcestershire Sauce at the last minute to make it a WOW!
(Of course, these days it’ll be Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, but what the hay! When in Rome . . . )