Frizzled beef: A spur-of-the-moment comfort food

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 02-22-2022 2:31 PM

I know I have written a lot of late about comfort food … but we’re smack dab in comfort food time of year. So today, I’m tackling one of my favorite spur-of-the moment comfort foods.

The late food editor and writer Judith Jones identified certain foods as “nursery foods.” Those foods aren’t always eaten in the nursery, although children usually find them very tasty and digestible. They bring adult eaters thoughts of childhood, however, by being easy to make and eat. They evoke nostalgia.

Despite the occasional thaws we have experienced of late, we are in winter, when ease and warmth take priority. In case friends or family members stop in unexpectedly for supper, I like to have some dried beef on hand. It makes a quick, satisfying meal for any meat eater.

I don’t generally like the dried beef that can be found in jars in many supermarkets. It’s overly processed and somehow doesn’t taste at all like beef. If I can obtain freshly cut dried beef at a good butcher like the one at my general store in Charlemont, Avery’s, however, I’m thrilled.

Even a carnivore shouldn’t eat dried beef every day. It’s full of sodium and preservatives. On the other hand, the sodium and preservatives make it last a long time in the refrigerator and even longer in the freezer. And they make it extremely quick to transform the meat into creamed chipped beef.

My mother’s version of this dish was simple: make a quick cream sauce and serve it with the beef. When I was a teenager I discovered that our neighborhood matriarch here in Hawley, Mary Parker, made a slightly more elegant version of chipped beef that included an egg yolk. She called it “frizzled beef.”

I like it either way—but I often make it Mary Parker’s way and use it as an excuse to remember her. Like dried beef, she was strong, salty, and well preserved. The head of a large family, she was called “Gam” by all the children around, including me, as well as by her own grandchildren.

She was at once a figure of inspiration and awe. She gave orders and expected them to be obeyed. She has a strict moral code and let everyone know when she thought someone had strayed from it. She also radiated charm and gave wonderful parties.

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She rose early to read a book, worked a full day at the business she and her husband had founded, and sipped a glass of bourbon and branch water every evening to relax.

Although she lived alone as long as I knew her (her husband died young), she always had an overflowing pantry and a pot of soup on the stove. Her freezer was full of the previous summer’s vegetable harvest but also included lots of treats.

As a child, I was impressed that there were always several flavors of ice cream in that big freezer. At the end of the main course at a dinner party, in a tone of religious zeal, Gam would announce, “There IS a hereafter!” And we children would be sent to select whichever ice cream flavor(s) we wanted.

In short, she was the sort of cook I wanted to be when I grew up, although I never aspired to her tone of authority.

Here, in Gam’s memory, is her recipe for frizzled beef.

If you want to vary it, you may sauté a little onion and/or celery in butter in your frying pan before you add more butter and the dried beef. You may also throw cooked peas or a pinch of thyme into the final product. I don’t bother gilding this culinary lily, however.

Frizzled beef may be eaten over biscuits, puff pastry, cornbread, or a baked potato. And it’s perfectly fine on toast.

When I serve it to guests, they don’t complain about the simplicity of the meal. It’s warm and tasty. And it is enhanced by candlelight and conversation. (Don’t forget those important ingredients when you serve it yourself.)

Gam’s Frizzled Beef

Ingredients: 1/2 pound sliced dried beef

a pat of butter the size of an egg

flour as needed

1 egg yolk beaten into 1 cup milk (plus a little more if needed) and 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

freshly ground pepper

Instructions: If you are averse to a lot of salt, rinse the beef carefully and pat it dry. Dried beef is heavily cured (that’s why it lasts so long) so it can be very salty. I adore salt so I usually skip the rinsing.

Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. When it is hot, add the beef and toss it around to coat it in the butter.

Dust the warm beef with flour and toss it around for a minute or two with a spatula. Pour in the egg mixture. Bring the liquid just to the boil, stirring. Add a bit more milk if the sauce looks very thick; then dish up your frizzled beef onto a bread or potato or whatever. Serves 4.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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