Wednesday 14 September 2011


This rather unprepossessing dish comes as directly from my mother as if I had lifted it from the wagon wheel-legged table that sat in the kitchen of my childhood home.  Every mom in our neighbourhood made a similar dish, based upon ground beef and macaroni, ground beef and potatoes, or ground beef and rice. 

Called variously Hamburger Hash, Goulash, Slumgully or—my personal favourite--Shipwreck, this homemade concoction predated Hamburger Helper by decades.  It was our loaves and fishes dish.   With the addition of more veggies and starch, Shipwreck could stretch a pound of hamburger to feed as many people as cared to put their knees under your table.   It was the week-before-payday standard, the mom-can-my-friend-stay-for-supper expectation, the we-were-just-in-the-neighbourhood-and thought-we’d-drop-by fall back.

I’m sure my mom won’t mind me revealing to you that the secret to Shipwreck’s endless stretchability lies in the gravy.  If you make a flavourful enough gravy, and add just enough of it to moisten the dish without making it gloppy, no one will notice how little meat actually makes it to their plate.

 I make it a little differently from my mom’s version but the same basic rules of assembly apply.  There are no hard and fast proportions and any left over cooked vegetables found in the fridge can perfectly well make their way into the pot.  The basis of the meal always remains the same. 

Mom’s gravy consisted of undiluted cream of mushroom soup with a beef bouillon cube dissolved into it.  That’s way too salty and chemical tasting for me.  I try to make this dish with left over pot roast gravy or gravy from a regular roast of beef.  If I don’t have gravy, I make one from a basic roux of 3 Tbsp. butter and 3 Tbsp. flour used to thicken about 3 c. beef stock. (I prefer homemade stock but will use stock in box if homemade isn’t available.)  I season the gravy with sherry, Worchestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  If you remember those cream soup based sauces fondly, you can achieve a similar flavour and texture by substituting low fat evaporated milk for half of the beef stock.  You’ll need to salt the sauce more heavily if you choose to use the milk.

Once the gravy is made, I begin assembling the dish by browning a pound of ground beef.  I add a generous amount of Worchestershire sauce to the pan as the meat is browning, and allow the liquid to cook off completely so that the sauce is absorbed right into the meat.  Once the meat has browned, I add an equal or greater total quantity of coarsely chopped onion, coarsely chopped cabbage and thinly sliced carrot.  If you want to add garlic to this dish, it should be grated into the pan with these vegetables. 

I sauté the vegetables until the onion is translucent and then add about a cup of beef stock to the pot.  I continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables are tender crisp, adding more stock in small quantities as needed.  When the vegetables are cooked, little or no stock should remain in the pan.

To finish the dish, I add some pasta (for nostalgia’s sake, I use wholewheat elbow macaroni but whatever you have on hand will do), and I stir in any left over vegetables I happen to have in the fridge.  This week it was corn kernels from left over corn on the cob and some steamed green beans.  I add enough gravy to just moisten the ingredients.  I continue stirring until everything is heated through, and then simply serve the dish in soup plates. 

If you’re feeling fancy-schmancy you can top each serving with some buttered bread crumbs that have been baked in the oven for a few minutes until browned, and maybe a little chopped parsley, but that’s it.  Just serve it and enjoy it.  It tastes surprisingly good and may take you on your own little journey down memory lane.

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