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American Chop Suey

  • p

To my mind, this is a quintessential New England dish, still found on every school lunch program menu and undoubtedly served in many homes. I have seen it fixed many ways, including "Chop Suey South of the Border" on a restaurant's Mexico Night menu.

When it is good, it is well worth eating, but many version are terrible. Do any of you have a particularly delicious recipe you would be willing to share? Do you know a restaurant in New England whose version is especially tasty?

Pat G.

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  1. Pat: other than elbow macaroni (an all-American brand like Mueller's), ground beef, and tomato sauce (a cheap one from the jar), what other recipe is there? Just posers, I think.

    American chop suey is New England-style Depression food, pure and simple.

    The best part about ACS is that it gets better every time you reheat it and it gets drier and drier.

    FWIW, my aunt made something for us called Boo-Boo that was nothing more than ACS with canned peas mixed in. Actually pretty good. It took me years to figure out where the name came from.

    1. My mother used tomato sauce, but I think it tastes better if it is less red, so I use canned tomatoes instead. She called it goulash, too.

      Sauté the ground beef or pork until it is done, drain any excess grease. Add diced onions and 2 or more chopped cloves of garlic per pound of meat, cook until soft. Season with black and red pepper, two tablespoons paprika, oregano and basil, crushed fennel seed, and a bayleaf. Add 1 can of tomatoes and smash up. Add a can of water, boil, add a teaspoon of salt and 1 1/2 cups of elbow macaroni (I don't measure this). Stir occasionally, when the noodles are done, add more salt, if desired, and a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with grated parmesan. Also good with a little sour cream mixed in.

      For leftovers, put into an oven dish, pack down. Pour over bechamel sauce, put on a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, and bake at 350 until browned.

      1. Somewhere along the line the American Chop Suey of my youth acquired the nick-name, Slumgullion. But the recipe for our family's version didn't change:

        Ground beef
        chopped onions and celery (and garlic, if feeling particularly sophisticated)
        We say, "No thank you" to green pepper.
        canned tomatoes (not sauce)
        cooked elbow macaroni
        salt and pepper
        worchestershire sauce
        dash of hot sauce, if you like it

        Brown the beef, drain and set aside
        In same pan with a bit of cooking oil brown the chopped vegetables, add back the meat and
        a can or two of plain canned tomatoes
        that have been chopped, including the juice. Season at this point. Stir in cooked macaroni.
        Taste, adjust seasoning.

        The macaroni is what stretches this dish to feed a lot of people cheaply. We like it sort of "soupy", and sometimes add addtional tomato juice to get the solid/liquid ratio we want. Serve with a hunk of homemade or other good bread for dunking.

        That's how we do it. Pat

        4 Replies
        1. re: Pat Hammond
          p
          Pat Goldberg

          Pat,

          Slumgullion, or Slum, was the name used by WWI Doughboys for a similar dish, sometimes made with pasta, but sometimes served over mashed potatoes. See link. There seem to be far more variants listed under this name than under American Chop Suey", although your recipe is an impeccable rendition of the latter.

          I am sure Bob W. is correct that it was common fare during the Depression, as were many other dishes of that ilk, but it pretty clearly predates the Depression as a dish. My 1939 Maine Rebekahs Cook Book has a recipe for it (over spaghetti, not elbows, that may account for its name). It also has two recipes simply called chop suey. One involves spaghetti, cabbage, catsup, and onion; the other more "oriental" in nature, involving diced meat, onions, celery, canned bean sprouts, cornstarch, brown sugar, and soy sauce. In the latter case, no mention is made of what startch to serve it with.

          Pat G.

          Link: http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/food.htm

          1. re: Pat Goldberg

            Pat, Thanks for that fascinating link and the explanation to an old family mystery. I wonder about that doughnut recipe. It sounds very easy and should produce a nice plain doughnut. Pat

            1. re: Pat Goldberg

              I have a 1959 Maine Rebekahs Cook Book from my mother in law. We read it for fun. One of the worse recipes found therein is Haddock Smudge. Basically, you boil haddock for an hour in lots of butter. Ugh. Prob. ends up like paste. Must make the house smell good.

              But I love the book. No directions, only ingredient lists really. Everyone already knew how to cook, I guess.

            2. re: Pat Hammond

              My god, If there was ever a dish that deserved to die it would be SLUMGULLION, the most hated food of my youth, even worse than liver cooked to shoeleather.

              One of the depression style ground meat lots of filler type of dishes my parents habitually served (another ver similar dish was hamburger chile with kidney beans)

              It almost ruined italian ragu for me by association...

            3. My mother always used a can of condenced tomato soup, instead of tomato sauce. Which on the face of it is odd as she made *great* sauce, but ACS was always a saturday-lunch-for-the-kids kind of thing.
              I haven't had this for a longgggg time, hmmmm......

              1. Growing up in the midwest my family called this dish Eatmore. Still argue with my husband that Eatmore is its proper name. Both of us make it the same using Campbell's Tomato Soup rather than canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, no green peppers either.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Diane

                  In Columbus Ohio it's referred to as Johnny Marzetti