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.
This dish has tons of concentrated tomato flavor, lots of classic Italian herbs like basil and oregano, and plenty of mozzarella.
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.
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.
If you’re looking for a European-style goulash, I hope you’ll try my delicious Hungarian goulash which features big chunks of meltingly tender beef with more European-style seasonings.
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.
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-fries.
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.
American Chop Suey is one of many family recipes that have been handed down to me over the years, and this particular recipe 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.
American Chop Suey Ingredients
- Butter: Use salted or unsalted butter. You can also use olive oil if you prefer.
- Onion: I use yellow onion.
- Bell Pepper: I use green, but any color will work.
- Garlic: I always use fresh garlic rather than the stuff that comes already minced in a jar. It’s preserved in a solution that I think tastes awful!
- Ground Beef: I like 80/20. The protein-to-fat ratio produces great flavor! It creates a meaty, substantive base that’s rich enough to hold its own against the hearty tomato sauce.
- Salt + Pepper: The fundamental seasoning.
- Tomato Sauce: Use your favorite brand. I like Contadina in recipes like this.
- Crushed Tomato: Include all the liquid in the can.
- Worcestershire Sauce: Adds so many subtle flavors.
- Sugar: This will help balance the acidity of the canned tomatoes.
- Italian Seasoning: This is one of my favorite herb combinations. I like McCormick just a pinch of Italian Seasoning.
- Pasta: I use Barilla pasta. The elbows hold up well and they have great texture. You can switch up the shape as you like, just use a quality pasta.
- Cheese: I use Mozzarella in this dish. It continues the Italian flavors. You can switch it up and create a different flavor experience
Tips + Variations 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.
- Make It More Italian – Switch out the ground beef for Italian sausage. It’s so, so delicious with sausage!
- Make it Creamy – Stir in 1/2 cup or more of heavy cream as soon as the pasta is done. It only needs to cook on low for a few minutes or until the cream is warmed through.
Storing + Freezing + Make-Ahead
- How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge? This will last in the fridge for 4-5 days. That said, the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid in the sauce. It becomes increasingly mushy, the longer you store it. If you are particular about having a perfect texture of pasta, this is best eaten the same day it’s made.
- Can You Freeze This? Yes! Well, sort of. Cooked pasta is notoriously difficult in the freezer. Again, as I said above, the pasta will continue to absorb liquid and the process of freezing really changes the texture of the pasta.
- Make-Ahead Tips: Thankfully, this recipe is very “make-ahead” friendly. Generally what I do is follow the recipe through step #2. Then I let the mixture cool to room temperature, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.
- When it’s time to serve, I bring the tomato-beef mixture to a simmer and continue with the recipe.
How Do You Make American Chop Suey?
- Saute onions, green bell pepper, and garlic. Add ground beef, salt, and pepper, and cook until there is no longer any pink in the beef.
- Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, water, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, sugar, Italian seasoning and simmer.
- Add the pasta and simmer until al dente. Sprinkle top with Mozzarella.
While this is a delicious meal all in one pot, it still is wonderful with Bisquick cornbread, or my super-buttery, homemade crescent rolls, Lion House rolls, easy-peasy beer bread, or no roll butter swim biscuits! It’s also really nice with something fresh and crunchy like my copycat KFC coleslaw, carrot salad, strawberry spinach salad, or fresh broccoli salad.
More Yummy Goulashes and Stews!
- German Goulash
- Beef Goulash
- Goulash Soup
- Cowboy Stew (All-American!!!)
- Pork Stew
- Stove Top Beef Stew (perfect classic recipe!)
- Brunswick Stew
American Chop Suey Recipe
- 3 tablespoons 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 teaspoons 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 teaspoons 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 (3 tablespoons) in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions (1 large), green bell pepper (1), and garlic (1 tablespoon) and saute until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the ground beef (2 pounds), salt (1 1/2 teaspoons), and pepper (1/2 teaspoon) 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 (2 cans), crushed tomatoes with their juices (1 can), water (3 cups), Worcestershire sauce (1 tablespoon), paprika (1 teaspoon), sugar (2 teaspoons), and dried Italian seasoning (1 tablespoon) and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the pasta (2 cups), partially cover, and simmer until pasta is al dente, about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle top with Mozzarella (16 ounces), 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 (2-3 tablespoons) if desired and serve.
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