Curried Dried Beef is a delicate riff on the infamous “S–t on a Shingle“, a staple of WWII-era American military cuisine. More politely known as “Creamed Chipped Beef” or “S.O.S.”, the basic formula is a simple white sauce fortified with chipped beef, served over toast or muffins. It is easy to prepare, high in protein, and frankly not terrible. And, given that the chipped beef product is nonperishable, a very practical source of protein for a military mess hall or bachelor veteran. This particular recipe comes to me by way of Our Favorite Recipes, a community cookbook from Arcadia, Wisconsin. Compiled and published in 1962, World War II mess halls would have been a not-so-distant memory and S.O.S. would have been a popular breakfast item. It will still turn up occasionally in some low-rent diner, but creamed chipped beef has been largely lost to the ages.
Twenty-first century readers may never have encountered chipped beef at all, or even know what it is. Chipped beef is a pressed meat product made from odds and ends of the cow. It looks like cheap salami but has the texture of beef jerky, and it shreds/dices easily. Compared to usual cured meats it’s quite bland. And your grocery store probably has it, whether you know it or not. My local WinCo has stocked Dried Beef for as long as I can remember, right next to the Spam and right above the corned beef hash. Somewhere over the years they switched from Armour brand to Hormel brand, but it surprises me that there’s enough demand for stores to still stock it. Besides S.O.S. the recipe options don’t seem that appetizing: the photo on the front shows some sort of pinwheel sandwich, and the top lid has recipes for an ominous-sounding “beef dip” or a modified jalapeno popper. None of these seem like a big draw for modern cooks.
Curried Dried Beef is a simple variant of SOS that adds a little bit of curry powder. It’s meant to be served over rice but is perfectly serviceable on your choice of shingle. While modern recipes seem to reserve curry powder for Indian or Southeast Asian dishes, many of my older cookbooks use curry powder in creative and distinctly Western ways. Elsewhere on this site I have recipes for Curry Spaghetti (1964), curried cheese dip (1964), and a curried white sauce served over frankfurters (1949). I will still occasionally see curry powder added to deviled eggs or chowders – a local restaurant serves an amazing turkey curry soup – but the Western use of curry powder as a general condiment seems to have fallen out of favor.
I’ve made a few adjustments to the recipe. The original calls for a criminally small amount of curry powder, enough to color the white sauce yellow but not enough to add any discernible flavor. I’ve tripled the amount of curry powder and added some crumbled chili peppers for heat. It is still quite mild by modern standards, but rounds out the flavors overall.
With the amped up flavor, Curried Dried Beef is actually quite tasty. It doesn’t take long to make and, served with fried eggs, offers up something like a poor man’s Benedict. But I don’t expect that Curried Dried Beef, or any form of S.O.S., will make it into my usual breakfast routine anytime soon. It’s yummy and easy to make, but dried beef isn’t the budget ingredient it used to be. Dollar for dollar I get a better value from Spam, fresh deli ham, or even inexpensive bacon. They’re all a better option than dried beef. Unless your menu planning is fueled by nostalgia for an old school commissary, Curried Dried Beef is probably a hard pass.
Our Favorite Recipes is soon to be republished by the Arcadia (Wisconsin) Historical Society. Current information will be available at the Historical Society’s website.
- Slice beef into thin strips. Melt butter over medium high heat and add beef strips. Allow to fry, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add flour and stir until incorporated.
- Add milk all at once. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened. Add curry powder and crumbled chili and simmer a few minutes more until flavors are blended.
- Serve on an English muffin or toast with fried eggs on the side. Top with freshly ground black pepper.