When I was growing up, every Christmas Eve my grandmother made home-made Chop Suey. This was my Uncle Bob’s special request – one of his favorite meals that she made for him every year when he drove to Illinois from Texas.
The recipe itself has a great story – my grandparents’ first home was in Chicago in the 1930’s. When World War II broke out and my grandfather enlisted in the Navy and moved the family to Washington DC, my grandmother went to their favorite Chinese restaurant where they had carry-out every Sunday to get the recipe for their Chop Suey. What she got was a rough recipe, filled with instructions such as “1/3 of a jar of …”
This rough recipe has been passed down, and this year I decided to make it for my parents, sister and brother-in-law for Christmas dinner. When I make this, I follow my Grandmother’s notes pretty faithfully. This is probably the only recipe in which I would use canned vegetables, but I like to make it as close to the way I remember it all of those years that my Grandmother made it. Maybe one day I’ll try to re-make it with fresher ingredients, but I’m not sure my family would let me get away with that.
To start, slice into small thin pieces (as for stir-fry):
- 2 pounds boneless beef
- 3/4 pounds boneless pork
Brown the meat in 1-2 Tbsp. butter. Work in batches and drain off any juices so that the meat browns but does not steam. Return all the meat to the pan, add enough water just to cover the meat and stew until tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (about 45 minutes).
Meanwhile cut into about a 1/4-inch dice:
- 1 bunch celery
- 2 large onions
- 1 green pepper
Melt about 1 Tbsp butter in a pan, then add vegetables and cook until they are starting to get tender.
Once most of the water has evaporated from the meat, add:
- cooked celery, onions, and pepper
- 3 large cans chop suey vegetables – do not drain (I don’t drain any of the canned vegetables)
- 1 large can sliced mushrooms
- 1 large can sliced water chestnuts
- 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce (use less if you don’t use low-sodium)
- 1/2 cup sorghum syrup
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 Tbsp butter
Cook until all the vegetables are tender, adjusting soy sauce, sorghum, and brown sugar to taste. The result should be slightly sweet.
In a measuring cup, mix:
- 1/2 cup corn starch
Add enough water so that the mixture can be easily poured. Add, a bit at a time to the chop suey, allowing to boil a bit before adding more. Add enough to thicken the chop suey – the broth should have a gravy-like consistency – you may not need to use all of the cornstarch mixture.
Serve over (crispy) chow mein noodles (or rice if you prefer).
This makes a large portion, and leftovers can be frozen. If you freeze the leftovers, you will probably have to thicken it once again before serving.