Classics: American Chop Suey

American Chop Suey

Everyone who lives west of Massachusetts thinks they know what this dish is, when I try to describe it. “Oh,” someone from Florida will say, “We eat that, too. It’s called Chili Mac.” Or someone from Arizona will say, “That’s easy to make; that’s Cheeseburger Macaroni.”

No… no, it’s not.

American Chop Suey is a uniquely New England dish comprised, in its most basic (and economical) iteration, of ground beef, elbow macaroni, and some sort of tomato slurry, whether tomato sauce, tomato soup, or V-8 juice. To me, it’s quintessential Maine comfort food, served in healthy economic times and in bad, in grammar school cafeterias, VA hospitals, at bean suppers, and to this day, in many homes throughout the state.

I was first exposed to the dish in 1983, at my best friend Joel’s house. His mother, Lee, was a pharmacy technician at Laverdiere’s in Rockland, and represented my first exposure to what I really came to think of as “Maine food.” My first bright red hot dog swimming in a plateful of baked beans? Hers. My first baked hamsteak, complete with pineapple ring and scalloped potatoes? Also hers. A blue, scratched translucent plastic Tupperware container full of sticky “Coffee Bars,” (which never tasted as good when my own mom tried to make ’em), or powdered-sugar dusted “Lemon Squares?” They were also hers, located in the cupboard to the left of the sink, up high, above the ancient, huge, wood-paneled microwave. I ate as many meals at their house as I did at my own, as a little kid, sometimes taking it upon myself to stop by and help myself to a snack from their fridge, even when Joel wasn’t at home.

It was for good reason: Joel’s mom’s cooking was different than my mom’s, who was always trying to muck up my five-year-old taste buds with hearts of palm and water chestnuts. And it was delicious. After a particularly rough day at school, where I didn’t make the basketball team (again), or that little bastard Jamie Robbins had smashed my Huffy “Dirt Dog” for the fourth time (that week), I didn’t run home for my mom’s kielbasa-and-artichoke-heart-stir-fry that she had slaved all day over. I went to Joel’s, where there was the two-liter bottle of cold Pepsi, where there was the loaf of white bread, the tub of Country Crock, and the big, endless bowl of American Chop Suey.

Creating a recipe for this entry in our “Classics” series was a bit tricky. In all of our recipes in this category, we work hard to present the best possible version of a dish, without changing what it essentially is. I could create a version of American Chop Suey, and make it with braised short ribs or ground veal, fresh tomatoes, basil, and homemade whole-grain penne pasta, but that just wouldn’t be American Chop Suey. Instead, I tried to keep it not just as easy as it should be, but also keep it true to its origins. Our version of American Chop Suey knows its roots, and would probably pass muster with the most die-hard, grange-hall ACS-eaters, or even with Joel and his parents. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m putting canned condensed tomato soup in it, either.

Our version uses both a dab of ground hot Italian sausage, and a generous heap of red pepper flakes. If you like things a little less spicy, or if you are using particularly spicy sausage, start with just one teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, and adjust from there. Make a big pot of our American Chop Suey, get into your footie-pajamas, light a fire, and get a good game of Rush ‘N’ Attack going. It’s comfort time, baby:

American Chop Suey

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 lb 80/20 ground beef
  • 1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, ground
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 lb box “Large Elbow” macaroni
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish

Method:

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and green pepper, and cook until just softened, about 8 minutes. Add ground beef, ground sausage, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about five minutes. Add whole tomatoes (and juice), crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Wear an apron. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, and cinnamon, and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about an hour. While sauce cooks, cook pasta according to package directions, reducing the cooking time by two minutes. Drain pasta, and rinse with cold water. Transfer macaroni to pot of sauce, and stir. Adjust salt and pepper, and cook everything together until flavors combine, about 10 more minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and hot, buttered Sourdough toast.

Our “Classics” series tackles some of our favorite dishes from Maine’s rich culinary tradition. You can think of them as “traditional” dishes, or more accurately, things you might have had for hot lunch in the fourth grade, had you attended St. George Elementary. To read more from this series, click here.

Malcolm Bedell

Author

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," with writing and photography credits including Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. His seasonal food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater, and he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

119 Comments
  1. Your version sounds really good and I am going to try it. We never get sick of chop suey or goulash as we call it. As a matter of fact Ron just ate a plate full for lunch left over from the other night’s “supper”. I actually use tomato soup and cream of mushroom soup to cut the tomato soup a bit. Give it a try. xo

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    1. Awe, man! And here I was, badmouthing the use of tomato soup! I think one of the reasons this dish has been around so long, is that you can make it as elaborate or as simple as you like…it really just depends on what you have in the house that day.

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        1. You don’t think so, Leslie? I did update it a bit, but I think it remains true to the original spirit. I grew up in the Thomaston/Rockland area, about 90 minutes north of Portland. Also, I love that we are comparing ACS credentials. 🙂

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          1. I’m afraid I agree with Leslie. This is way too complicated for “Classic” American Chop Suey! I was eating this as a child back in the 60’s (in NH, made by my mom who is from Maine). You need to use the K.I.S.S. theory on some recipes and this is one of those times!

            Onions with a bit of butter
            green pepper (if desired)
            Elbows macaroni
            hamburg
            stewed tomatoes
            salt & pepper

            Cook. Combine. Let tomato juice from stewed tomatoes evaporate while flavors cook together. AND NO CHEESE. This turns the dish from American in to something else entirely!

            🙂

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          2. Malcom, o know these are old posts but this is exactly how my mom made it, spices and all, in the 70’s in central Massachusetts. No tomato soup!! And for sure.. parm chess from the little green plastic container! Making your recipe tonight! Thanks!

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  2. Ahhh… memories… In upstate NY, we called it goulash–though it bore no resemblance to the Hungarian dish. It was also much more simple than what you posted… when my mom made it there was hamburger meat, elbow mac and jarred tomato sauce..when my great aunt made it there was sauteed onions and green peppers. If it was fancied up by either one of them, then there was kraft parm sprinkled on top of it.

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  3. I love this. My Mom was not a big “New England cook” (she’s more of the “Hoisin Pork” and “Linguine with Clam Sauce” variety), but I always remember seeing it on the Hot Lunch menu (which I was never allowed to get). When I lived in NY I brought up American Chop Suey once and was looked at like I had to two heads. “You mean stir fry or something?” Fools.

    Laura

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  4. First visit here and this really caught my eye. As a native of New England I had never realized that this was a “local” dish. It all makes sense now! I cannot wait to make this, thanks.

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  5. Thank you for this post! I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone utter the phrase “American Chop Suey” since my Grandma Lois passed away in the late ’80s. I grew up in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and that was a staple food at her home. Now that I live in the Midwest, I don’t hear about it or see it, ever. Until now! So thanks again!

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    1. Thank you Kate. I really drug my heels about calling it “American Chop Suey,” preferring the more specific “Macaroni and Beef.” Now, I can’t STOP saying it. American Chop Suey! American Chop Suey!

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  6. Oh man! I grew up just outside of Boston and I could never figure out why NO ONE knew what I was talking about when I said American Chop Suey (I now live in Los Angeles). My mom used to make this for us all the time! So good.

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  7. I just finished making your recipe. Although there are a lot of ingredients, it was pretty simple and very tasty. My mom used to bake it with slices of american cheese on top(not my favorite) and we always called it hamburg and macaroni or goulash.

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  8. Thanks for the recipe……I was a military brat and spent 4 years on Cape Cod when i was young……I remember having this at school and asked my sisters and I seem to be the only one who remembers it….although i am the only one who went to grade school there from my family. I tried this and it was just like i remembered……THANK YOU!……..what a great memory

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  9. Just wanted to say, I just discovered your American Chop Suey recipe about six weeks ago and I’ve made it twice…about to make another huge pot for the holiday weekend. People do love to scoop out a bowl to help carry them to the next meal. Especially young fellows who have hollow legs. This is now a friend and family favorite. I’ve tried a number of variations in the past, but this is, hands down, the best. Thanks!

    PS. I’ve lived in New England for close to 20 years and it took until now to find the perfect recipe. Not kidding.

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  10. My family is from out in Amish country in Pennsylvania, and it’s called Goulash here. But, it’s definitely the same thing you described above. It’s one of my favorite meals — back in college, I used to feed my 3 roommates (all male) and myself this, and we normally could eat for about half a week.

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  11. I volunteer at the soup kitchen in my NH city and last week we served American chop suey. Boy, was it popular. It reminded me of when I moved to Nashua 30+ years ago after many years in Florida. In my first week of work in the school system I asked what was for lunch and was told it was Am. Chop Suey. I had my teeth all set for bean sprouts, water chestnuts and chunchy noodles. Wow, was I surprised! Delicious. I have not had it with green pepper so will try this. thanks.

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    1. This is hilarious. I grew up in PA, but my parents were both from northern Maine and when I first heard someone call chop suey Chinese I was very confused. Macaroni, hamburg, and tomatoes didn’t seem very Chinese to me.

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  12. Hi, well I just moved to Florida from NH and my mom made it the way simple french lady way lol hamburg, elbows and tomato juice……I just made this recipe for my friends here who never heard of it and boy it was delicious, it was easy and all the ingredients were wonderful ty……..will be back for more recipes

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  13. omg……all week long I’ve had an urge for this but just couldn’t think of buying some from the local supermarket (yuk). Thanks for the recipe…just had some 🙂 even though its only 9:30 am at the time …..lol.

    I had a heart attack 6 months ago …so need to avoid sodium (salt)..so substituted “Pomi” chopped tomatoes (no fat/no sodium) and used salt free table blend but outside of that followed the recipe 🙂

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    1. Where do you live, Billy? If you are near Portland, Punky’s does a pretty shipshape job of selling a pre-made American Chop Suey…it would be hell on your sodium intake, however.

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  14. I live in Maine, and have eaten this for years. When I traveled for work, this was one of the meals that I missed the most; outside of New England it just isn’t on the menu. What I love about it is that it’s customizable; you can use whatever is on hand. I found a weight watcher recipe several years ago called Chicken Penne, two servings and altered it to make a 2 serving American Chop Suey. I like stewed tomatoes more than Campbell’s Tomato Soup, which is what my mother uses in chop suey.

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  15. I’m a deep south gal who lived in Boston for seven glorious years. My first exposure to American Chop Suey was at work – Food Day! I brought Hoppin John, and my boss made ACS. I didn’t know what it was until he took the lid off the pan and oh! Hamburger casserole! 😀 There’s some difference between ACS and the casserole I was raised on, but it was definitely my favorite dish that day. Can’t wait to try this one out!

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  16. This classic sure brings back memories. I lived in Conn til I moved west 20 years ago. I remember those school lunches of chop suey and making it at home as well. No tomato soup for me either. I might sub a jar of good marinara but that’s it. Thank you

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  17. Thanks for this recipe. I’m going to make it for dinner this evening. Perfect for a rainy day! I grew up in SE Mass and I always loved it when this was on the lunch menu at school….no one made it better than the lunch ladies! BTW, have you noticed how hard it is to find large elbows? I live in northern NJ (right outside of NYC) and hunted high and low before I finally found a store that sells them. Pretty odd in an area that is so densely populated with Italians…

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  18. I just googled American Chop Suey and stumbled upon your blog. Love it! I can’t wait to read more. My mom used to fold in a few slices of American cheese to our pot of ACS. I know it sound strange, but when you get the bite with the melty cheese, it’s heaven!

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  19. Yeah, 2 tsp of the crushed red pepper kinda lifted the tops of our heads off. Regardless, it’s still delicious and the red pepper seems to have mellowed with age (I’m eating some leftovers to quench my 3am hunger fit).

    Since I’m leaning more vegetarian these days, I replaced the meat in this recipe with a black bean/quinoa/onion mix. The kids swear they’re eating meat.

    And the cinnamon… genius! I’ll be using this one again. Thanks.

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    1. Hmmm…that may have been our un-adjusted Mexican taste buds talking. Try scaling it back to one teaspoon, but I do think some heat has to be there, to balance the cinnamon.

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  20. I had to chuckle reading your intro….you described my parent’s culinary habits right down to the country crock, lol! My suggestions is with your chop suey, white bread and “shake cheese” as we call it, try a side of bread & butter pickles, the combination is the bomb!!!

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  21. I tried this recipe and it was delicious. I thought it sounded a little familiar and in fact this recipe is very similar to Saveur magazines version. (Issue #101) The link to the recipe comes up under your site link on the google. Your variation is good, I love making chop suey, it was a regular meal during my childhood.

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  22. My husband and I were both born and raised in New Jersey – I in Sparta (the Northwest end of the state) and he in Cherry Hill, outside of Philadelphia. We both have very fond memories of eating American Chop Suey in our school cafeterias, where it appeared to be a staple. Now, anything that makes cafeteria food delicious has got to be good, right? I tumbled across your site searching for this recipe, and I look forward to exploring more!

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  23. I googled American chop suey and found your site.I am from Oklahoma my grandmother use to make a dish very similar to this however we called it goulash. I have never tried it with cinnamon or red pepper flakes. I am excited to make your version for supper tonight. I will be back to try more recipes they all sound so good.

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    1. Thanks, Robin! We call it “goulash” around here, too, though I grew up calling it “American Chop Suey,” because that’s what they called it at my grammar school. Try it with the cinnamon; it adds the faintest sweetness that I think you’ll really enjoy.

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  24. I’m making this tonite with all the kids and grandkids here. Of course we make it with the traditional tomato soup which is the way I had it since the 50’s and 60’s. My husband’s family is Italian from Providence and is appalled that someone might use soup. I think I might give your recipe a try to calm the squeamish in the group.

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  25. I just tried this today and I love the cinnamon and sugar twist, but I definitely shouldn’t have used the two teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes. Way too hot for my New England taste buds.

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  26. I was looking to make my Dad’s version of American Chop Suey that I grew up with but wanted to see how and if others make it. I am going to give this one a go.

    Jill
    Mainer from NH

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  27. this is a really old dish…..my grandparents were from R.I……then on to N.J…..i remember eating this in the 40’s…..could have been a standard during the depression era.

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  28. I plan to make American Chop Suey as my contribution to our Super Bowl menu. There will be a mixed crowd there and I worry about the heat. I know I can decrease the red pepper flakes but would the recipe lose a lot if I used mild sausage too?

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  29. I grew up in MA and my mother kept it real simple. Beef, onions, sauce and elbows. Sprinkled with can parm cheese or shredded moazrella. My husband grew up in NJ and his recipe was more like yours, minus a few ingredients but his mother added a can or kernel corn. It added a crunch to the dish and was another way of getting a veggie into her kids meal. Our local markets carry “Prince” large casserole elbow noodles, but sometimes hard to find. Love this dish, so easy to make!

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  30. thanks i was looking to verify that this was a regional new england dish. its is took a days work on a cyber journey learning this simple thing.and i like you recipe its is a pasta dish don’t mean cant be upscale a lil thanks.

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  31. Thanks for a good-looking recipe – will be trying it tonight… I’m from New Haven myself and grew up on this as well. Now living in Norway I try not to use the traditional tomato soup in things for health and cost reasons (@ $4.00 a can here, imported!), so your version looks ace 🙂

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  32. Hmm… Ill just have to try this.. but I may need to rename it, or there may be hostility when dinner is served. Being from New England (born MA, raised NH, moved to CA when 14), I must say your recipe definitely looks alot different than the one mom makes (and thus I now cook).

    My recipe involves the onion, celery, green pepper, macaroni, Parmesan cheese, hamburger only and then two – three cans of hunts tomato sauce (one being veggie based, and the other generally traditional). (so we cheat on the sauce).

    I love me some american chop suey (in fact, its whats for dinner tonight) and its one of those rare meals that I will actually eat leftovers!! But definitely curious to try it with sausage and the red pepper.

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  33. Growing up not he South Shore (MA) my mother made this once a week. Cheap and easy to feed three kids. Often she would assemble it in the morning and if she worked that night we would finish is off in the oven. Loved it. Haven’t had it for years!

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  34. Yep! I grew up on this (and all the other things you mentioned) in Mass…also brown bread..boiled dinners,etc…I miss those days! I’m making your version tonight..thanks 🙂

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  35. Grew up in NH & experienced many versions of Am Chop. The best had cinnamon as an ingredient. My friend Steve’s Mom made it in a cast iron skillet and added canned green beans. Good, but no cinnamon. Your version is great, maybe a bit heavy on the heat and missing a key ingredient, celery, but I added it and have made a number of batches to rave reviews. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for writing, Russ. I don’t care for celery in my ACS; it brings the sauce too close to spaghetti sauce for my liking. But that’s the beauty of a giant pot of ACS…you can tweak it until it’s just right for you!

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  36. hi i commented on this back in febuary 2012 . i made dish for super bowl. this is great stuff just wanted to let u know it being made once a month here now and forever . thanks dats good stuff

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  37. Hi! My husband requested American Chop Suey for dinner and I found your recipe. I’m so grateful! I love the site. This recipe was a hit with my husband and daughter. The leftovers kept well and were easy to reheat. Thanks for the great recipe!

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  38. I made this a vegan version with meatless ‘crumbles’ (found in the frozen section) and it totally knocked my socks off! Thank you for giving me back an old favorite…but updated for my current dietary needs. Oh my god this was sooooo good!

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  39. This recipe is the closest to the original!! “at least in my family” We basically change this or that amount but always use the same ingredients. We do however add stewed tomatoes in addition to the others mentioned. I also like red AND green pepper. I recently went on line to get measurements because I have chemo brain & actually felt I should have a guideline. I was surprised to see soup & many other foreign ingredients. The tomato soup must be good because hundreds of people use it, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t just use the real thing… I think it’s the recipe we were raised on that we defend:) My family has a couple of recipes that others cringe at, “especially the kiddies ha ha” yet we still love!~Having said that I was THRILLED to see this recipe & immediately posted on pinterest. I made it two nights ago & added & subtracted a few things. Basically it was the same recipe “I doubled” & it was DELICIOUS!!! Thank you to the person that posted it!~

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  40. I too had ACS for elementary school lunches. Had no idea that it was a NE thing. When I searched for ACS online, it kept coming up with goulash recipes!! I couldn’t figure it out. Well, I have my own recipe, but thought I’d try something new. I was a little hesitant to add the cinnamon and wish I followed my gut. I did not like the cinnamon addition….at all. Next time, I’ll make it without. Thanks though!

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  41. I grew up in Meriden, CT. (in the 80’s) and we eat a TON O’ACS. The K.I.S.S method IS the key…chop suey is about putting whatever ya got in a pot. My family is from Maine and Texas…and my great grandmother was German…New England food is all about American melting pot.

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  42. Very good recipe. The cinnamon lent it a flavor complexity similar to Greek moussaka. Very like my mom’s American chop suey (mom made it minus the sausage and cinnamon). I like your version.

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  43. Malcolm, love your writing. We live in Maine and my boys are growing up here, but my husband and I are from Michigan. We never tire of finding out all of these little factoids about traditional Maine cooking. My 10yo son just came home from camp in NH and his third favorite meal at camp was American Chop Suey. I didn’t even know what it was! (Although I have seen it on the school lunch menu before.) After googling, it seems sort of like hamburger helper to my midwestern mind, but I’m sure I’m wrong. 🙂 I will try out your recipe and I’ll see how it fares with the hubby (who also has fond memories of ACS from camp in NH) and the boys.

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  44. This was one of my favorite meals growing up in Rhode Island, too. Non-New Englanders just don’t understand the deliciousness. 😉
    I love your addition of hot Italian sausage, what a great twist! Can’t wait to try this, thanks! 🙂

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  45. my moms American Chop Suey the New England Way
    of Gloucester, Massachusetts

    american chop suey sauce
    2 lbs hamburger
    1 chop onion
    1 chop green bell pepper
    1 chop red bell pepper
    2 cups chop celery
    3 tablespoon sugar
    2 cans or jars traditional spaghetti sauce
    1 Can Stewed Tomatoes

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  46. I did make this and it came out AWESOME. I am recently single and had to learn to cook. (Not that i was happy about it) but this was simple and didnt take much time at all. After my son finished his first bowl and was on his way up for his second he looked at me as said “well mom i guess i won’t starve this is really good”. It was nice to hear . Thank you.

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    1. Hi Theresa! Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know! I hope you find some more ideas for cooking projects on our site…there’s plenty here to keep you fed for a long, long time! Thanks for reading!

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  47. Wow! The memories!
    I grew up in Maine (Topsham) and my dad made this dish often… Well his version of it anyway
    I don’t ever recall having ACS with cheese though.
    My dad would sometimes use ground beef and sometimes leftover
    Chicken or turkey.
    I know he used stewed tomatoes salt pepper and onions… I don’t know if used soup or not
    What I do remember and perhaps this is what made it “his”… He would pour
    It all into a casserole dish and drizzle BBQ sauce on top!
    I’ve been craving this dish for wks now and finally made a batch tonight using I know to be his recipe. Just as awesome as I remembered! Dad would be proud 🙂
    Thanks so much for posting this recipe and pointing out its New England roots.

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  48. American Chop Suey used to be one of my favorite lunches on the menu at my greater Boston school cafeteria. Everyone loved to hate the cafeteria food but I loved some of the dishes others thought were gross including American Chop Suey, Beef Stew, and Pizza Burgers(oh what lovely greasy meat on toasted burger buns). I made your version today and had a bite or two but will wait until tomorrow when the flavors have really melded to tuck into a big bowl. Don’t remember the cinnamon note but I’m going to withhold judgment until I eat a plate tomorrow. I used 93% lean ground beef, dialed back on the crushed red and omitted the sausage. I am sure that my school cafeteria probably used 80/20 beef so the biggest difference I notice is the grease factor. This version is better for my heart, though, I’m sure.

    Love your writing too. Your memories of eating at a neighbors made the memory of eating gigantic bowls of steaming egg noodles slicked with Country Crock come roaring back.

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  49. My mother’s family is Pennsylvania Dutch — and I grew up calling this simply “Goulash” — after I got married and made this dish, my husband said this isn’t Goulash — I said no it wasn’t Hungarian Goulash–but he then informed me that in his family they called it “Slum Gullion”. His grandmother was German and was born and grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. This is how he remembers her recipe:
    elbow macaroni, cooked
    bacon (NO HAMBURGER!)
    onion, chopped
    stewed tomatoes?
    Ketchup
    Salt and Pepper

    cut bacon into pieces and fry till crisp remove from skillet and drain on paper towels or napkins, then frying the onion pieces in the bacon grease, drain off the grease and scrape up those bits and pieces on the bottom of the pan, add the cooked mac and bacon to the cooked onions in the skillet — now I’m not sure if I believe this — but he insists that his grandmother used Ketchup — and he thinks she also added a can of stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes. Cook on low until everything is heated.

    My mom’s recipe is much like others — Cook together: hamburger, onion chopped, green pepper chopped, add: cooked mac, tomato soup (Undiluted) or tomato sauce (which ever she had on hand or felt like), and can of diced tomatoes and of course seasoning a little garlic salt, some pepper.

    Restaurants and only home-style family owned restaurants or diners — in my area (South Bend, IN — Think Notre Dame Fighting Irish) call this either American Goulash or Macaroni Goulash and I suppose it’s so there’s no confusion about it being Hungarian Goulash. One restaurant uses hamburger and choped onion cooked together, cooked macaroni, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce — AND sliced mushrooms (I think these are cooked with the hamburger and onion). They serve it with Parmesan Cheese (the powdery stuff!). If you ask for American Chop Suey here, people think you want old fashioned Chinese Chop Suey — with cubed pork, celery slices, bean sprouts, and onions served over rice!

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  50. I’m Massachusetts born + raised, but have lived in TN for the last 13 years. American Chop Suey was my ultimate comfort food growing up, + I’m thrilled to introduce my southern husband to this just-slightly-dressed-up version tonight. =) I’ll report back how it goes!

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  51. I kind of like the idea of putting Italian Sausage in it, but then it’s no longer American Chop Suey, it’s a whole notha dish! I grew up in the Boston area, but live in the DC area now. I mentioned I was making this for supper and my husband was like what is that? So then I started asking around and I couldn’t believe that no one else knew what it was!

    I also make a variation of this, hamburg, some diced onion, diced tomatoes, italian spices, macaroni and two cans of cheddar cheese soup. We call it the Special – but I always thought my mom just didn’t have everything on hand for ACS, and whipped this up instead.

    Do you remember Prince Spaghetti Night, or is that strictly a Boston thing?

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    1. I grew up north of Boston in a little town called Amesbury. Wednesday was Prince Spaghetti Night, Friday was some kind of fish, and Saturday was always Boston Baked Beans with steamed brown bread. Other nights the menu varied but those nights were pretty much set in stone! American Chop Suey, NE Boiled dinner, and Shepherd’s pie were usually on the menu a couple of times a month.

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  52. Just made it last night matter of fact. Born and bred in Massachusetts, I’ve had a few different versions of American Chop Suey. Last night was plain and simple, 1 pound 85/15 ground turkey(usually use ground beef), 1/2 med size onion, 1 green pepper, both cooked
    separately until onions are translucent. 1 box pasta shells, rigatoni, whatever tickles your fancy, cooked al dente. Combine the turkey, onions, peppers, pasta, and 3 cans of tomato soup. You can use a brand name or store name. Heat it up all together and serve.
    Sit back and listen to the oohs and aaahhhhs. WORKS EVERYTIME!!!!

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  53. This is my first time on your site…I was searching for a new way to make American Chop Suey (or Goulash as it was called both in my home growing up). I never realized it was a New England thing either. I grew up in Massachusetts but lived out west (Utah/Colorado) for 10yrs before moving back to MA. I married a southern Californian(sp?) and was amazed at the differences in food. I thought what we ate, as New Englanders, was “normal.” But being newly married at that time, my (now ex) husband was mystified and sometimes horrified at the meal for that evening. He grew up on fish tacos and lots of fast food, I grew up on Shepherds Pie, (even thought not being catholic) eating fish and chips every Friday, or beans and hot dogs on Saturdays. Now I have 2 little boys and I’m trying to bring back those old favorites…some that I only learned to appreciate when I lived out of New England. Who would have known out west they never heard of a hot dog roll that was not rounded and you could toast it!

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  54. Boston, MA childhood version also included crushed Ritz crackers on top! I’ve made vegan versions, low-carb versions (with cauliflower in lieu of elbow macaroni) over the years.
    @Tracy yep, shepard’s pie, fish ‘n chips on Fridays. It’s funny, a british sports bar(cricket)/restaurant opened around the corner from me and had a sidewalk sign announcing they had “fish n’ fries” on the menu that night. Had to laugh.

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  55. My mom made this with just hamburg, tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, onions & sometimes – sweet corn. Then she baked it in oven with a topping of Westminster crackers. She called it “Italian Love.” The “Lunch Ladies” called it American Chop Suey. I still make it & it’s still delicious. NO CINNAMON! That goes against nature.

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  56. First time on this site, love it! Yes, American Chop Suey is New England born. My grandmother taught my mother back in 1938 in the state of New London, Ct area. My mom followed her mother recipe to the “letter” and so do I, well, most of the time 😉 So, here is a 1938 version:
    lard or oil just enough to sauté onions and green peppers
    2lb hamburger
    2 large green peppers not fine cut (more if you want)
    1 large onion not fine cut (more if you want)
    1 large can tomato sauce
    1 large whole tomatoes squished up or less if you do not like chunks of tomatoes
    salt and pepper to taste
    elbow macaroni
    1) In large pot sauté medium to low heat, onion & peppers in lard or oil until cooked not burnt, remove
    2) in same pot fry hamburger on medium to high heat until browned
    3) remove from heat, pour tomato sauce, squished up tomatoes, sautéed peppers & onions, salt and pepper.
    4) put large pot back onto low heat and cook while you cook the macaroni
    5) mix cooked macaroni to large pot and let sit for 15 to 20 mins
    Enjoy!

    This recipe is always better the next day!

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  57. Heaven on a plate. Back in the day I could not wait for this to show up on the school lunch menu. And you can put ‘shaky cheese’ on top or not, whatever you like, adding it doesn’t make it less ‘New England’! Love this recipe, it’s got just great flavor. Thank you Malcolm!

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  58. This looks fantatic, and like something I would put together if I was trying to class up an old family version of American chop suey. Happy to see the cinnamon, a lot of people have no idea the subtle little note it throws into tomato and meat based dishes (we like it in stuffed peppers and cabbage too).

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  59. Having been burned by ridiculously pretentious recipe preambles, I rarely read beyond the first paragraph. Yours hooked me right in. The authenticity of the memories you shared went right to my heart. A child’s range of feelings are marvelous. I loved everything about your story from the freedom to come to Joel’s house and cadge a snack even when he wasn’t there to the contrast between your mom’s food and the rightness of ACS for a 5-year old palate.

    After that, I knew the recipe would be good. I returned home from Yoga at the Y tonight (no fancy studio) with a takeout container of ACS from Whole Foods in Dedham. I didn’t hold out too much hope for it being more than meat, pasta, and tomatoes, but it surprised me with its flavor. Lots of meat (almost too much), that pepper kick, and just salty enough.

    I can’t wait to make this for myself.

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  60. I’m glad I get to comment after ^Paul. He suffers from a uniquely New England dish comprised, in its most basic iteration of disrespect, ornery attitude and some sort of verbal slurry that is not constructive. (See what I did there?). Now I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life and do I think anyone knows what authentic American Chop Suey is? No. The common thread that readers and people attempting this recipe have is that our memory of the dish titled this was wicked good. So good that even if you disagree with the ingredients or the who made it best ultimately like me you took the time to Google it and click on this recipe (just like me). /Rant. Couple of comments for the Jr. cooks like me that besides this have only made grill cheese. Something to mention which I am sure is obvious to any well-seasoned chef (see that, I did it again) is to measure your spices beforehand and put them in a dish or something because when you add the beef/pork that’s not the time to measure your spices. Also a happy mistake that worked for me. Use the same measuring spoon for the oil to add your tomato paste because it slides right out and you don’t loose any. This recipe was easy and taste great and is better then my High School cafeteria ACS. J.S.

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