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What is American Chop Suey?

 Years ago a common offering in many small local restaurants in the Boston area was a dish called "American Chop Suey." As I recall it contained ground beef, elbow macaroni, celery, onions, tomatoes, and occasionally green peppers. I have been unable to find any recipes and my trial-and-error attempts have been less than successful — something seems to be missing. Do you have any suggestions?

 Ignoring the obvious question of why you want to find the recipe, we’ll get right to the heart of the matter. American Chop Suey is indeed a combination of (over)cooked elbow macaroni, ground beef, and tomatoes. The haute-cuisine versions include any of the following: onions, celery, green pepper, garlic, garlic salt, paprika, and shredded cheese. Of the dozens of recipes we’ve scanned, the tomato can come in many forms: diced, crushed, diced and paste in combination, bottled spaghetti sauce, condensed cream of tomato soup, even V8 Juice.

The proportions are all over the map, but the consensus is that you use a medium onion, a pound of ground beef and a pound of elbow macaroni. The amount of tomato sauce varies greatly; we’d suggest no more than 2 cups for that quantity of meat and macaroni. We would stay away from the tomato soup. If your experiments have been a little tame, you might want to try a bit of garlic (although we believe that strays from tradition), and would probably appreciate the flavor boost of a half-cup or so of green pepper and celery. The cheese simply seems heretical. Salt and pepper (more salt than the food police are probably comfortable with) are also necessary. Some people suggest that it tastes better the day after you make it.

(And we’re just teasing, there are those on the Ochef staff who occasionally serve American Chop Suey at home — as plain as plain can be, with just onion, beef, macaroni, canned crushed tomato, salt and pepper. It doesn’t need anything else, they say.)

What we’d really like to know is where the name came from.

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