Chop suey is my comfort food. It was ubiquitous in my childhood. Even though the name chop suey has become unfashionable, versions of it are still everywhere.

This modern chop suey is so good, you’ll never need to go out again. We made a big batch of rice to eat it with but in the end we barely touched the rice at all. It was so satisfying all on its own. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be. I made this one up extra saucy because the whole point of chop suey is that crazy delicious sauce. This is the chop suey of my dreams.

chicken chop suey over rice | www.iamafoodblog.com

What is chop suey?

There are a lot of people who try to answer this question with a history lesson, but I think that stuff doesn’t matter. At its core, chop suey is a glorious meat and vegetable stir fry with American ingredients. Chop suey is a stir fry of too many vegetables (some canned), a not-quite-authentic Chinese stir fry sauce, way more meat than they’d ever use in China, and way more delicious than it has any right to be.

When I went to the mall with my friends as a teenager, my food court joint of choice was that place where I could pick out meat and vegetables by the pound, and they would stir fry it on a giant flat top and serve it over rice. I always got extra rice (grudgingly free, but how can you say no to teenage boys who need extra rice?) and they would always ask which of 10 different sauces I wanted. The answer was always “brown”.

And what is that, if not a choose-your-own adventure chop suey?

chop suey over rice | www.iamafoodblog.com

Authentic American chop suey

Other people will tell you it’s just a Chinese stir fry gone wrong, but I disagree. Chop suey is through and through an American dish. Does that make it worse or less authentic than “real” Chinese food? I say no: it’s just as authentic as Italian American food, which used to be trashed by “real” Italians, but these days is celebrated as its own thing by people in the know. If you didn’t grow up here, you’ll probably dismiss chop suey as “westernized Chinese food.” Chinese people (even including Steph) tend to instinctively look down on this dish, but they’ll come around, just like how authentic Italian pizzerias actually make American pizza and don’t even know. (Update, after tasting this version, Steph came around).

american chop suey | www.iamafoodblog.com

The magic of chop suey is in the sauce.

But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t incorporate proper Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients into this quintessentially American dish. In this recipe, we use all the secrets of real Chinese cooking (where applicable): Shaoxing wine to add complexity; toasted sesame oil for a creamy nutty umami note; velveting the meat to tenderize it.

But is that what makes this what I humbly call the greatest chop suey recipe? No, what makes this a great chop suey recipe is ALL THAT SAUCE. It’s gloriously generous, and it’s so satisfying to eat. You can’t make chop suey without enough sauce to drown in (even if you end up not eating it all).

chop suey sauce | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to make chop suey

  1. Marinate and velvet the meat for 5-15 minutes (basically as long as it takes to prep everything else, but longer is better).
  2. Prep your carb base: cook your rice or soak your chow mein.
  3. Prep the vegetables by cutting them into spoon sized pieces.
  4. Make the sauce and thicken it.
  5. Stir fry the meats and garlic. Then remove and set aside so they don’t overcook.
  6. Briefly cook the vegetables. I prefer my vegetables on the still crunchy side.
  7. Add the sauce and stir everything together.
  8. Eat to your heart’s content.

chop suey recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Ingredients

For me, chop suey is a protein (chicken, pork, or tofu), all the veg you want, but at least one canned (I like baby corn; maybe you like water chestnuts or bamboo shoots?), bean sprouts, a generous amount of brown stir fry sauce, and a carby base: rice or noodles.

  • Protein: chicken thighs, chicken breast, or pork tenderloin, velveted in corn starch. Or tofu or ground meat too, no velveting needed
  • Sauce: my chop suey sauce is mostly made of soy sauce, oyster sauce, corn starch, and the secret ingredient: chicken stock to get that volume up. Because of how much sauce we’re making, you need to thicken it on its own instead of the traditional Chinese way of boiling it at the end with everything until it gets thick enough. If you do it that way, by the time the sauce is thickened, everything else will have overcooked.
  • Canned vegetables: Canned baby corn/bamboo/water chestnuts provide a bright note and a hit of old school authenticity to this dish. If you didn’t grow up with chop suey, you should skip this; it’s an acquired taste.
  • Fresh vegetables: because we’re better than canned now. Vegetables should be cut up into small bite sized pieces that you can eat with a spoon–chop suey shouldn’t be eaten with chopsticks. That means squares, not long slices. The recipe has a list of suggestions but you should use whatever your heart desires: asparagus? check. snow or snap peas? check. All the colors of the rainbow bell peppers? triple check! Super authentic Chinese vegetables like gai lan or bok choy? Only if you want to.
  • Carby base: rice or chow mein noodles, please!

vegetables for chop suey | www.iamafoodblog.com

Toasted sesame oil: the secret to that authentic restaurant taste

Even though this is firmly an American dish, we can still update some of the ingredients to more authentic fare than was available in the 1800s. The traditional secret of great Chinese food is Shaoxing wine, but in the modern world I would add that toasted sesame oil is on par with it in terms of importance and flavor, and universally available these days.

It goes in everything and it’s that subtle nutty note that makes anything better. A little goes a long way though, so use it sparingly. You should be able to find toasted sesame oil in the Asian aisle of any grocery store (or online, as always). We prefer Kadoya, a japanese brand with an iconic bottle.

chicken chop suey | www.iamafoodblog.com

The food of my childhood (and yours too I bet)

Chop suey was the first thing I ever cooked and I bet it was yours too. Like all kids, I had no recipe or any idea of what I was doing, but I knew deep down what I wanted to make: a stir fry with that delicious mystery Chinese brown sauce, the crunchy and colorful vegetables, and that velvety soft tender chicken (or pork) over rice that I got literally everywhere.

I’m glad I updated it and made it again because I forgot how good it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It was simultaneously a throwback to the carefree days of childhood and just a genuinely good weeknight dinner that deserves a place in your rotation.

So saucy,
-Mike

Chop suey recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Best Chop Suey Recipe

The stir fry of your dreams.
Serves 4
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 20 mins

Ingredients

Protein

  • 1 lb chicken breast sliced, or meat of choice, see notes
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced

Chop Suey Sauce

  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 cup chicken stock no sodium preferred
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp shaoxing wine optional but highly recommended
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce very optional, for color
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper optional, if you can find

Suggested Vegetables

  • 1 cup broccoli cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup mushrooms sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts rinsed
  • 7 oz baby corn 1/2 can
  • 1 bell pepper cut into squares
  • 1/2 medium onion sliced

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients to marinate and velvet the meat (or tofu) and set aside.
    velveting meat | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Combine all the ingredients of your sauce. Reduce in a large nonstick skillet until suitably thickened, about 2 minutes. Transfer to another container and set aside.
    chop suey sauce | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Prepare your fluffy white rice or crispy chow mein if needed. Then, heat up 1 tbsp of oil in the same nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add your protein and quickly stir fry until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, then remove.
  • Add all the vegetables except the beansprouts to the now empty skillet and give them a very quick toss, 1-2 minutes (or to your preference).
    stir frying vegetables | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add the meats, bean sprouts, and sauce to the skillet and allow the sauce to come to a boil, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately, with green onions and sesame seeds and chili flakes.
    chop suey | www.iamafoodblog.com

Notes

You can use any protein you like, such as pork chops, chicken thighs, tofu, etc. If using tofu or ground meats, omit the corn starch.

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Best Chop Suey Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 449 Calories from Fat 75
% Daily Value*
Fat 8.3g13%
Saturated Fat 0.8g5%
Cholesterol 73mg24%
Sodium 637mg28%
Potassium 1462mg42%
Carbohydrates 66g22%
Fiber 8.9g37%
Sugar 12.8g14%
Protein 37g74%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Hi, I followed the recipe but the sauce is very thick! I had to add another cup of broth to unthicken it. Could the tbsp of cornstarch be tsp?

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