Winner, winner, it’s American Chop Suey for dinner! This Americanized classic is a favorite coast-to-coast, with savory bits of ground beef in a hearty tomato sauce, mingling with tender macaroni and melty mozzarella.
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We’ve all been there – exhausted after a long day and surrounded by a chorus of, “What’s for dinner?”
Unfortunately, some days we’re stuck making do with what we have, combining whatever’s looming in the fridge or pantry to cook a “unique” (i.e., unpopular) dish.
Rumor has it “chop suey” is a provocative name some parents use to lure children to the dinner table on just such an occasion! It can apparently be an effective tool for eliminating the groans and grumbles that often accompany these “creative” meals.
The good news is the recipes for American Chop Suey are definitely not an afterthought; they’re a wonderful, deliberate combination of tasty ingredients you can serve for dinner without having to trick your children.
As the name suggests, chop suey has some Chinese origin, though it’s possibly the brainchild of Chinese-American immigrants working on the railroads during the 1840s’ Gold Rush.
These resourceful chefs had to make the most of what they had, which undoubtedly resulted in some unusual stir-frys.
The Mandarin word for these “odds and ends” is tsa sui, and shap sui is Cantonese for “mixed bits,” so it’s easy to see how the pronunciation evolved to the name we use now.
What is American Chop Suey?
American Chop Suey is a classic American one pot dish consisting of beef, pasta, and a thick tomato sauce. It’s popular throughout the country especially in the Midwest, the South, and New England.
American Chop Suey is one of many family recipes that have been handed down to me over the years, and this particular one is a favorite on my husband’s side.
It’s definitely a family-specific kind of recipe, too, with subtle (or not-so-subtle) changes depending on who’s making the dish.
Each family is also pretty adamant that theirs is the best.
When people think of American chop suey New England comes to mind (there’s an American chop suey Wahlburgers version from the famous Boston-based hamburger chain).
It’s a popular dish there that’s served at home, in restaurants, and even in school cafeterias, and it’s the one part of the country that consistently uses that name.
Depending on where you are and regional seasoning variations, it may be called Chili Mac, Beefaroni, or Johnny Marzetti Casserole (after an Ohio-based restaurant).
There’s also a Goulash dish that’s similar (here’s my version of American Goulash), but the truth is if you compare the two – American chop suey vs goulash, you’ll find the latter lacks the strong Italian-American influence you see in most American Chop Suey recipes.
This dish has tons of concentrated tomato flavor, lots of classic Italian herbs like basil and oregano, and plenty of mozzarella.
How do you make American Chop Suey?
American Chop Suey is really simple to prepare and comes together in just one pot (hooray for fewer dishes!). Basically, all you do is saute the aromatics, brown the beef until cooked through, add the tomato products, seasoning, and spices and simmer, then add the pasta and when it’s al dente, top with Loads of mozzarella!
I use a little butter to saute the aromatics and green pepper which adds some extra richness right off the bat.
Butter is actually used in Italian cooking, believe it or not, not just olive oil, so that’s not necessarily an American addition.
Next, we add a flavorful blend of 80/20 ground beef to create a meaty, substantive base that’s rich enough to hold its own against the hearty tomato sauce.
Tomatoes are really the most prominent ingredient, and this recipe accentuates the full spectrum of flavors – from bright and acidic to rich and sweet – by using tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes.
Tomato sauce is a combination of tomato paste and water, with a few additional spices or flavorings.
The diluted version of the potent paste is less harsh (requiring less cooking time to mellow) but still a great way to enrich the cooking liquid.
Don’t be tempted to make this American chop suey with tomato soup, though, since it’s a very different animal that’s diluted even more and usually has some added milk or cream.
Using crushed instead of diced tomatoes serves one purpose – making sure every piece of the pasta clings to just as much of the tomato sauce as possible. This particular sauce formula makes a nice thick tomato gravy that really fuses with the elbow macaroni.
By the way, if you only have whole tomatoes in your pantry, you can crush them yourself, juice and all, with a food processor or immersion blender for a simple substitute.
One of the other things that helps make the pasta in this dish so flavorful is actually letting it cook in the sauce. Some recipes, like the American chop suey Serious Eats version, either pre-cook or soak the pasta before adding it to the sauce, but I think that denies the chewy macaroni pieces an opportunity to maximize their tasty factor.
The seasonings in this dish are classic – a generous tablespoon of Italian seasoning and a touch of paprika to add a subtle sweetness and heat while contributing to the rich red color of the sauce.
There’s also Worcestershire with all its warm, salty, sour, sweet flavors. (Really, is there anything else like it???)
I add this wonderful sauce to almost all my beef dishes, and in my family’s version of American Chop Suey Worcestershire sauce really is an important part of the flavor profile.
It wouldn’t be an Italian dish without some melted mozzarella, and I like to stir it into the pasta to melt a little so there’s some in every fork-full. I do sometimes serve a little extra on the side for sprinkling on top since there’s no such thing as too much cheese.
I usually offer a crusty loaf of bread too, and maybe some roasted broccolini or a fresh green salad.
One whiff and the kids will be anxiously waiting at the dinner table with no creative spin on supper required!
Recipe Notes for American Chop Suey:
Bake it – We all love one-pot suppers, but if you want some browned cheesy bits on top, you can make an American Chop Suey casserole.
Once the pasta is al dente, pour the mixture into a lightly greased 9” x 13” dish.
You can either mix in the cheese ahead of time or sprinkle it on top (or both!).
Cover it with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for about 10 more minutes until the cheese is melted and the casserole is brown.
Lighten it – There are some American chop suey recipes 500 calories or less, and while I won’t go into a specific calorie count for this dish, you CAN take some steps to make it a little more waistline friendly.
Use olive oil instead of butter and substitute lean ground turkey (93/7) for the beef. You can also use whole wheat or multigrain pasta and either skip the cheese altogether or use a low-fat mozzarella.
American Chop Suey Recipe
- 3 Tablespoon Butter
- 1 Large Yellow Onion Finely Chopped
- 1 Green Pepper Seeded and Finely Chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Garlic minced
- 2 Pounds Ground Beef 80/20
- 1 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2 15 Ounce-Each Cans Tomato Sauce
- 1 28 Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes, Including All Liquid
- 3 Cups Water
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 Teaspoon Paprika
- 2 Teaspoon Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Italian Seasoning
- 2 Cups Elbow Macaroni Uncooked
- 16 Ounces Mozzarella Shredded
- 2-3 Tablespoons Italian Parsley Roughly Chopped, Optional
- Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, green bell pepper, and garlic and saute until the softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the ground beef, salt, and pepper and continue to cook, crumbling the beef with a spoon, until there is no longer any pink in the beef, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes with their juices, water, Worcestershire Sauce, paprika, sugar, and dried Italian seasoning and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the pasta, partially cover, and simmer until pasta is al dente, about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle top with Mozzarella, cover and cook on low for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to rest, covered for about 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley if desired and serve.
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More Beef and Hearty Meals?
- Easy Crock Pot Beef Stew -This Beef Stew recipe has a thick, rich gravy. It’s loaded with lots of beef, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, peas and great herbs!
- Vegetable Beef Soup – This is loaded with tender chunks of beef, incredibly rich broth, and all the right veggies!
- Beef Barley Soup – There’s almost nothing better than fresh veggies in a hearty beef vegetable barley soup!
- Easy Hamburger Soup Recipe – This is a home-style, hearty meal sure to satisfy healthy appetites.
- Crockpot Goulash – Whether you call it gulyas, gulas, gulyasleves, gulasin, gulasch, or plain old crockpot goulash, you’re gonna relish this humble beefy noodle herdsmen dish!
More One Pot Meals…
- Jambalaya – Take a trip down the bayou with the best Jambalaya recipe for busy cooks! This smoky, meaty entrée will conjure warm evenings with a zydeco beat.
- One Pot Burrito Bowl – This One Pot Burrito Bowl brings the deliciously authentic flavor you’d expect to find in your favorite Mexican restaurant right to your own table!
Source: Gonna Want Seconds
I don’t understand why it is called chop suey? It reads more like American goulash. Can someone please tell me or was the title a misprint. Thank you, Carolyn
Hi, Carolyn! There’s also a Goulash dish that’s similar (here’s my version of American Goulash), but the truth is if you compare the two – American chop suey vs goulash, you’ll find the latter lacks the strong Italian-American influence you see in most American Chop Suey recipes.
What Italian-American influence would that be? I know chop suey’s not a Chinese dish but a American dish in origin that was influenced by Chinese food of which Woolworth’s lunch counter was famous for. That being said, I have never come across a chop suey recipe that has Italian herbs or spices in it. By the way other than disagreeing about your version of chop suey I absolutely love your recipes and save many (90%) to my recipe box. Shall we say we agree to diagree.
Bob M. says
It’s a New England thing. If you’re from this region of the United States, you understand the name 100%, if you’re not, then you probably call it American Goulash, which tastes different because of the different seasonings. This recipe is 100% SPOT ON, with both taste and tradition here in New England. This dish was, and still is a regular rotation dish at family, and other gatherings, due to its simplistic recipe, and the ways each cook and or family can alter one or more things to make it their way. Like me, I add at least 3 times as much worcheshire sauce, giving it a sweeter tang, which is how my mom made it. Don’t get bogged down with the name, it’s not worth getting in a fuss over, just make it, and enjoy life.
Hi, Bob! I couldn’t agree more! Thank you so much 🙂
It’s really easy and it’s our favorite too!
Julie J Cline says
Made this several times now…replaces goulash recipe.
Hi Julie. It’s so nice to hear that from you. This is the recipe my husbands family served as their favorite American Goulash
Jennifer Johnson says
I’m not sure why you discouraged the use of Tomato Soup. There is no cream involved actually. Campbell’s tomato soup was used in my family for several generations now, so I know it’s an old way to do it. I sauté onions and beef (1.25lb) salt and pepper, drain, add to a pound of cooked drained elbows and 3 cans of Campbell’s Tomato soup straight out of the cans. It’s kitschy but very much a comfort food thing in my family. Luckily it was what my husband grew up with too, so we don’t have to debate which way is the best for Chop Suey in our house!
Excellent tripled recipe for 40 people, made sauce in advance brought up to New Hampshire in pot, put in Nesco added macaroni for guests arriving night before daughters wedding, everyone loved it served with garlic bread, Thanks
You’re welcome, Cindy. Congrats on your daughter’s wedding!?
Really delicious, had 2extra peppers I needed to use so added them, otherwise followed the recipe. Rave compliments from my family, just right spice. Thank you for a great recipe.
Oooh thanks, Stephanie! Glad to hear you and your fam loved it! 😀
Amy M says
I made this but used a can of petite diced Roma tomatoes and Roma tomato sauce and it was excellent! Making it again tonight 🙂
That’s so awesome, Amy! 😀
Kay Allison Cardarelli says
This is one of my fav versions of thisl recipe! It is so saucy! I made it tonight and my family loved it. Mozzarella on top is yummy.
I’m so glad you and the family enjoyed the recipe. Hope you make it again. Thanks a bunch!
I have made this meal about 6-7 times now, and it is great, everyone loves it. I love that it is so easy to do, and if you prep the veggies ahead of time, you can whip this up in under an hour, so it works great, even on a weeknight.
Hi, Bob! Glad that you like this! It’s so easy right? Leftovers are perfect too!
I actually think the leftovers have a better flavor, as everything has time to meld together overnight in the fridge.
I agree, Bob! Glad you like this recipe 🙂