The American Chop Suey is one of the most popular comfort meals in America. A simple combination of elbow macaroni, ground beef and tomato sauce, this dish is bound to make people happy!
Depending on where you are in America you might know this American Chop Suey dish under a different name. Johnny Marzetti, American Goulash, Beefaroni, Slumgullion, Chili Mac, Johnny Mazetti, Macaroni and Beef, they all seem to be just another name for pretty much the same dish. New England calls it chopsuey, while in other parts of the US, you might encounter it under another of its many names.
What is American Chop Suey?
Despite the chop suey part of the name, which sounds thoroughly Chinese, this dish has absolutely nothing to do with Chinese cooking. Neither does it have anything to do with a goulash if you were to choose one of its other names. Who Johnny Marzetti was or what on Earth a slumgullion is eluding me… If I were to read only the ingredient list, I would rather think this is an Italian dish like Bolognese pasta.
This is a simple and delicious pasta dish made with elbow macaroni, ground beef, and tomatoes. Super easy to put together, all you need are basic cheap, ingredients, a large pot (a Dutch oven is perfect), and about 30 minutes. A really FAST recipe! And if you are into American recipes, check the link.
How did the recipe develop?
The dish was first mentioned at the beginning of the 20th century and, originally, it really was a dish of Chinese origins (Cantonese tsap seui – miscellaneous leftovers) – a stir fry with meat, vegetables, and soy sauce served over rice
The recipe developed over time. Mentions from a Navy cookbook from the 30s talk about the addition of pork/ beef, BBQ sauce, and even cabbage. The cabbage was ditched soon after and the dish developed in a more Italian style. Rice and soy sauce disappeared, being replaced by tomatoes, pasta and Worcestershire sauce.
Its glory times were in the 1960s and 70s, but the lost popularity seems to be creeping back nowadays.
- American Goulash (East to Mid-Atlantic): pretty much the same recipe but add about 2 teaspoons paprika to the sauce.
- Johnny Marzetti (Midwest): add some mushrooms and sausage meat to the main mixture. Spread the cooked pasta into a casserole dish, top with cheese (Cheddar and Italian blend cheese), add the sauce and another layer of cheese. Bake in the oven.
- Chili Mac: add some cumin and chili powder, and one or two cans of beans, either only kidney beans or some black beans as well.
- Over the years, we’ve had all these combinations, we loved them all. I especially like the beans and the spiciness of a Chili Mac, while my kids keep asking me to make the regular recipe most of the time. I always have to cook a huge pot and they eat the macaroni both for lunch and dinner…
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- Elbow macaroni
- Ground beef
- Vegetables: onion, garlic, green bell pepper
- Tomatoes: canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce (either homemade or your favorite brand).
- Cheese: I usually use Cheddar. However, a combination of Parmesan and mozzarella is lovely as well. It is preferable to buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself, already grated cheese is not always melting very nicely.
- Stock or water: just a small amount. If you have some stock is great, otherwise, water will do.
- Spices: dried oregano, dried parsley, fresh parsley (optional), dried basil, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce.
- Other ingredients: butter, sugar.
How to cook beef chop suey?
- Fill a large pot with hot water for the pasta. Only add salt to the pasta water when the water boils, if you add it at the beginning the water will need longer to come to a boil. During the time it takes to come to a boil, start preparing and cooking the rest of the dish.
- Heat a large skillet. In the meantime, chop the onion and the garlic, but keep them separated from each other.
- Add the butter, onion, and a pinch of salt to the skillet. Cook on low heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until the onion is softer. Add garlic and stir for another minute.
- Increase the heat to medium. Add ground beef and stir well breaking the lumps of meat. Cook until browned, about 3 minutes. (1)
- In the meantime, chop the green pepper into small cubes. Add to the pot and cook for another 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. (2)
- Your pasta water should have come to a boil by now. If it is so, add salt generously and then the pasta. Cook according to the packet’s instructions, in my case 7 minutes. By the time the pasta is cooked, the sauce should be ready as well.
- Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, stock or water, dried herbs, sugar, salt and pepper to the skillet with the sauce. Stir well. (3)
- Cook for about 10 minutes, on medium-low, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir well to melt. (4)
- Adjust the taste with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Add the chopped fresh parsley if using.
- Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the pot. There is a lot of food in there now, that’s why you need a really large pot. Stir well to coat the macaroni with the chop suey sauce. (5)
How to serve?
Serve immediately on a plate or in a bowl. The usual accompaniment is buttered white bread. Add an extra dash of Worcestershire sauce if desired. You can top the beef chopsuey with freshly grated Parmesan as well.
How to store and freeze?
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can also freeze the leftovers for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight and reheat in the microwave, stovetop or oven. Add some water (or butter or oil if you don’t care much about the calories) when reheating on the stovetop and stir often.
Can you cook this in a slow cooker/crock pot?
- Cook onion, garlic, ground meat, and pepper in the skillet as instructed above. Place in the slow cooker.
- Add all the other ingredients, except the cheese, fresh parsley, Worcestershire sauce, and pasta.
- Cook on low for about 6 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, it depends on your slow cooker.
- Stir in the cheese and adjust the taste with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Cook the pasta and mix it with the sauce.
More fast pasta dishes:
Fast American Chop Suey Recipe
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 onion , large
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 can diced tomatoes about 400 g/ 14 oz can
- 1 lb tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock, from a cube is fine
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp fine sea salt or Kosher
- 1 cup Cheddar Note
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce more to taste
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley optional
- Fill a large pot with hot water for the pasta. During the time it takes to come to a boil, start preparing and cooking the rest of the dish.
- Heat a large skillet and use the time to chop the onion and the garlic.
- Cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt on low heat for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir for another minute.
- Increase heat to medium. Add ground beef and stir well breaking the lumps of meat. Cook until browned, about 3 minutes.
- In the meantime, dice the green pepper. Add to the pot and cook for another 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Your pasta water should have come to a boil by now. If it is so, add salt generously and then the pasta. Cook according to the packet’s instructions.
- Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, stock or water, dried oregano, basil, parsley, sugar, salt, and pepper to the skillet with the sauce. Stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes, on medium-low, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the grated cheese until melted.
- Adjust the taste with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Add fresh parsley if using.
- Drain the cooked macaroni, mix with the sauce and stir well to coat.
Slow cooker instructions:
- Cook onion in the butter with a pinch of salt for 3 minutes on low heat.
- Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.
- Add ground beef and cook until browned, about 3 minutes on medium heat. Break the lumps while it cooks.
- Add diced pepper and cook for another 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to the slow cooker.
- Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, stock, dried herbs, sugar, salt, and pepper, mix well.
- Cook on low for about 6 hours and on high for 3-4 hours, depending on your slow cooker.
- Add cheese and stir to melt. Adjust the taste with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in fresh parsley.
- Cook the macaroni according to the packet’s instructions and mix with the sauce.