"SOS" Doesn't Always Mean Help

by John Smith


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I'm sure that I must have mentioned that I was once a cook in our countries finest military establishment, the Marine Corps. I can remember my very first encounter with the mess hall and Marine Corps chow. I wasn't a cook yet. Several hundred new recruits and I had just come from the new recruit processing place where we were treated to a hair cut and given five minutes to shower, shave, and put on our new uniform, consisting of olive drab utility trousers, sweat shirts and high top black tenny runners.

Have you ever tried to shave and shower with ten sinks and ten showerheads in five minutes with several hundred complete strangers? Well, it's not much fun and the Sergeant in charge didn't help much with his constant insensitive badgering. After being kept up all night running here and waiting there, we were marched or, in our case, herded over to the mess hall for some breakfast.

I'll always remember that morning in San Diego. It was still pitch black as they lined us up in front of this large one story building with several hundred other recruits. The delectable aroma of bacon, eggs, and toast mixed with the stench of a very large and very full grease trap filled the crisp morning air. I was hungry, but I didn't know that the stink from the grease trap had nothing to do with the food that was being served so I was a little apprehensive about my first meal in the Marine Corps.

I was pleasantly surprised once it was my turn to grab one of the stainless steel trays and some eating utensils and side step my way down the chow line. There were mass quantities of toast, hash browns, pancakes, bacon, sausage links, stewed prunes, oatmeal, and this dark gray lumpy goopy stuff. As hard as I tried, I could not ever remember my mom serving me anything that looked even remotely like that gray lumpy goop. Since we were not allowed to talk in the chow line, I could not ask what it was so I simply stuck my plate out. To my horror, the grimy looking Marine working behind the counter slammed a large spoonful of that toxic looking goop all over my hash browns and scrambled eggs. I was hoping for just a taste now I would be forced to eat it with the rest of my meal or go without. Guess what? It was really good.

To this day, my favorite memories of Marine Corps chow is what we called "creamed beef" served over hash browns, biscuits and eggs. Many of you may be familiar with the term "SOS." Creamed beef is a modern version of SOS. The original SOS was chipped beef in a cream sauce served on toast and fed to many of our fathers and grandfathers before the military came to their senses. "Creamed beef" or what I call hamburger gravy, now that I am a civilian, is a favorite breakfast or economical dinner entree here in the Smith household. Whether over rice for dinner or hash browns and biscuits for breakfast, we just love the goopy stuff. Here is how you make it:

2 pounds of cheap, not-too-lean hamburger
1 chopped onion
flour, enough to absorb all the grease from the hamburger
a couple cups of milk or so, canned or otherwise
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce to taste
2-3 tablespoons of beef gravy base to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the hamburger and onion in a large skillet. Mix in enough flour to absorb all the grease. If your hamburger is too fatty, you may need to pour some of it off. Add milk while stirring on medium heat until it reaches the right goopy consistency. Add remaining ingredients. There you have it! Serve on biscuits and hash browns for breakfast or over rice for dinner. You're gonna love it!


John Smith has been a butcher/meat cutter for 30+ years. He's written the book Confessions of a Butcher- eat steak on a hamburger budget and save$$$, which is available at www.arkessentials.com . You can check some of his archived articles at www.all-about-meat.com or post any meat related question and get it answered usually within 24 hours. John, his wife Vickie and their 8 kids live in eastern Idaho in the shadow of the Tetons.

© ArkEssentialsPublishing.com 2006. Used by permission.

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