American chop suey, with roots in New England, bears no resemblance to the chop suey found in Chinese restaurants. American chop suey contains tomatoes, ground beef, pasta, vegetables and cheese, mixed together in a large pot or pan and served in a bowl with additional shredded cheese on top if desired. This recipe, with its origins in the steam table buffet restaurant kitchens of New England, can now be found throughout the United States, though its name still reflects the source.
American chop suey made the New England way typically contains elbow macaroni, but substitute any small pasta you like, such as seashells, cavatappi, penne or fusilli. Boil the pasta to al dente, or just barely fork tender, generally a minute or two less than the package recommends, as it finishes cooking in the skillet.
While the pasta cooks, brown some ground beef in a large skillet. You can use the grease from the ground beef to sauté the vegetables at the same time in the pan. As an alternative, brown the ground beef first, then drain the grease and set the beef aside on paper towels. Add a bit of olive oil to the pan to sauté the vegetables in the next step.
American chop suey contains diced garlic, peppers and onions, but you can add any other vegetables you like or have in the kitchen. Try adding grated carrots or diced celery. Sauté the vegetables simultaneously with the beef or after you’re done browning it, remove the beef and set it aside so you can use the same pan for the vegetables. Add a bit of olive oil or butter as necessary. Sauté the vegetables until they turn translucent and tender.
Tomatoes for American chop suey always come from cans. Use undrained petite diced tomatoes, tomato sauce or tomato paste diluted with broth, or a combination of all three to taste. Add the tomato products after combining the sautéed vegetables and browned ground beef in the pan. Blend the ingredients well, leaving room in the pan for the cooked pasta.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan. American chop suey shouldn’t have the consistency of soup, but it should be slightly juicier than a casserole. Add some of the pasta cooking water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Add diced or shredded cheese to the pan, stirring until it melts. The dish traditionally includes cheddar and American cheese, but you can use any that you like. Try mozzarella or colby cheese instead. Cover the pan and simmer it to aid in melting the cheese. Cook it until the chop suey thickens and bubbles, and the noodles and vegetables are tender.
References and ResourcesThe America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook; Jack Bishop
University of Minnesota Extension: Basic Principles for Preparing Pasta