Meat Boats is an odd little hot sandwich recipe well-suited for a weeknight dinner. The recipe comes to me courtesy of Cooking Ideas with Portable Electric Appliances, a twenty-odd page pamphlet published by the Edison Electric Institute in the mid-1960s. Folks of a certain age may remember the Edison Electric Institute for their iconic Live Better Electrically medallions, which graced the doorbells of tens of thousands of mid-century homes. These medallions certified that the home was built with adequate electrical capability to accommodate ‘modern’ appliances, with specific guidelines for number of outlets, dedicated circuits, and appliance-appropriate amperage. Cooking Ideas with Portable Electric Appliances provides recipes for busy homemakers that can be made with small countertop appliances. There are recipes for everything from blenders to popcorn poppers (which can apparently be used to heat canned soup). Meat Boats is one of three recipes recommended for a toaster oven – or “broiler” in mid-60s parlance – nestled in between simple barbecue chicken and broiled fish recipes. If you don’t have a toaster oven don’t worry, any conventional oven with a broiler will work just fine.
Like most recipes in Cooking Ideas with Portable Electric Appliances, Meat Boats is presented as unfussy and uncomplicated. There is a particular emphasis on convenience and elegance in every stage of the recipe, from the use of a countertop appliance, to using canned luncheon meat as the star ingredient, to simple instructions for maintenance and cleanup. Preparation is straightforward: luncheon meat is mashed, seasoned, and mixed with American cheese and green peppers. The meat mixture is loaded into a hollowed out loaf of French bread and broiled until the cheese is bubbly. The presentation is oddly pleasing, in a fancy-lunch-at-grandma’s sort of way.
The original recipe is impossibly salty. Not quite inedible, but enough to make you reconsider your life’s decisions. This is a common failing in many recipes from this era, where high-sodium canned foods were more common and half of Americans were deadening their taste buds with tobacco. The problem with this recipe is a function of proportions. The lunch meat mixture isn’t any saltier than, say, a hot dog but there’s just not anything to balance out. The two obvious remedies would be to use more bread or reduce the salt in the meat; in the recipe adaptation below I’ve opted for the latter by using SPAM Lite (or a similar reduced sodium product). If it’s still too salty for you, leftover chicken, canned chicken, or canned tuna are worthy alternatives.
Once you’ve got the salt under control, Meat Boats makes for a pleasant hot-sandwich dinner. Serve it with something sweet or bland to cut the salt: lightly dressed salad, fresh fruit, or even an ambrosia salad. Enjoy!
- Turn on the broiler. If the broiler has high/low settings choose "high".
- Divide the American cheese into two half-pound portions. Slice one portion thin, as you would for grilled cheese sandwiches. Grate the other portion. If you purchased pre-sliced American cheese see the note below.
- Chop green peppers into ¼ inch pieces.
- Place luncheon meat in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher. Add grated cheese, green peppers, horseradish, and milk. Continue mashing until well-combined.
- Slice the French bread in half lengthwise and scoop out a trench in the center of the bread. Place under the broiler, about 5-6 inches away, for a few minutes until the bread boats are lightly toasted.
- Remove from the oven and fill with the meat mixture. Place back under the broiler, 5-6 inches away, for 6-10 minutes until meat is hot. Use the "low" setting if your broiler has one.
- Layer the cheese slices over top and broil 2-3 minutes more until cheese is bubbly. Slice and serve immediately.
If all you have is pre-sliced American cheese you can still shred it. Just smush the slices together with your hand and run them on the coarsest side of a box grater.