Let me clarify first that I am neither Chinese nor Hungarian in descent and yet my mother made this dish weekly for dinner. A culinary fact that she wishes I wouldn’t talk about, but is true. During the late 70s and 80s, she was a working mom with 2 kids and a hard-working husband. She needed to get a quick week night meal on the table and this fit the bill. I even mastered the recipe by the time I was 12 years old!
Let’s compare the differences…
Goulash – loosely defined as a tomato sauce, noodles and beef casserole that usually contained some veggies and uses paprika to give it a sweet, smokey flavor. This comfort food probably came down through generations of immigrant grandmothers.
American Chop Suey – loosely defined as a tomato sauce, noodles and beef casserole that usually had some veggies in it and folks like to top it with cheese, usually Parmesan. It has nothing to do with the Chinese variety you get at the local takeout place!
So which one did my mother make?
Neither. She would brown a pound of ground beef, drain off excess fat, combine the beef with 1/2 box of Mueller’s elbow noodles cooked according to directions and 1 can (15.5oz) of Manwich. Combine all in oven-proof dish and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 mins.
Why use Manwich you ask? Why not use a jar or can of plain tomato sauce? What about sauteing onion, green pepper and celery with the beef? Well I think she needed to get dinner on the table in a hurry one night and darn-it she didn’t have any tomato sauce on hand. “Hmm…” she thought – “here is a can of that Manwich stuff we use for Sloppy Joes; I will just use that instead, it looks all the same!” This is the part where I reveal that she has been a hardcore vegetarian for over 40 years and counting. She never touched the stuff she made for us unless it was fruit or vegetables. Yep – she eats nothing with a face! So I think she thought Manwich was really just the same as any canned tomato sauce. Or maybe she was smarter than all of us knowing that the sautéed peppers and onions were already in the sauce!
No complaints here – my brother and I loved it – still do. Although I have explored many other more homemade options for “American Chop Suey” I still make the original Manwich version once in a while.
I researched American Chop Suey for this post – because you have to wonder why is it called that. Nobody seems to know for sure why it is called that. The answers are vague and consist mostly of “urban legend.” I did find out that most of the country would call it “goulash” with some choosing the more straight forward “macaroni and beef” and it seems to be only a New England thing to call it “American Chop Suey.” There is a small niche that would call it “Marzetti.” There are rare few mentions of “American Chop Suey” and Manwich out there in the World Wide Web but I don’t think my mother was alone in this concept. Mostly I just found innuendo of this marriage. I think I am the first one to confirm it publicly. Frankly I think Con-Agra foods should pay me some royalties for giving them yet another use for their product.
No matter what you call it…
… it is mom’s cabinet stew – born of necessity and made with convenience.