No matter what you call it — chipped beef, creamed beef, or SOS — it’s as comforting a dish as I can think of. If you were in the U.S. Army, you know it as SOS (expletive on a shingle) and many GIs came to loath it, but I think that is primarily because of the frequency with which it was served. I have eaten in many mess halls and always found the food very good, but if I had to eat there every day, anything could become tiresome.
Creamed beef, that’s what we called it in my family, is basically ground beef, sautéed with onions and garlic (optional), a light brown roux and milk or cream. You can jazz it up as much as you like, adding bell peppers, mushrooms, or anything that you fancy. My preference is to make it with Rouses mild Italian sausage, and, as always, I like to add quite a bit of crushed red pepper flakes.
Perhaps the most important step is to get the roux right. As always, its equal parts of oil or butter and flour. If you do not cook it long enough, it tastes of flour, if you overcook it, and make it a dark roux, the flavor is wrong. Go easy on the roux too. Too much and it makes it too think. Make the dish and let it simmer for a while. If it is too thick, add more milk, but slowly. A small amount of roux goes a long way, proceed with caution.
Creamed beef is most often served on buttered toast, but the Greenhouse Biloxi, where I am now sitting, of course, serves it on their famous biscuits. My favorite is the sweet potato biscuit.
Seasoning is pretty simple. Most people use only salt and pepper, and I prefer to go heavy on the freshly ground black pepper. And, yes, freshly ground makes a difference, as it does with many things. Do you prefer ground coffee from a can or freshly ground? It’s the same thing, fresh is always best. You could garnish with chopped green onions, but only if you want to fancy it up a bit, but that really is a stretch, isn’t it?
I think creamed beef is the perfect midnight snack. It’s easy and quick, and so filling. Make this on a sleepless night, and you will drift off to dreamland and a good night’s sleep.