While it was found on the menu of every Chinese restaurant in the U.S. throughout its heyday in the 1950s, chop suey isn’t Chinese at all. Legend has it that the influx of Chinese laborers to San Francisco’s gold rush of the 1840s longed for a dish that reminded them of home. Restaurants soon popped up to cater to them.
Supposedly, a band of drunken miners stumbled into one of these restaurants late one night and demanded something to eat. Exhausted and irritated, the owner stormed into the kitchen, where he scraped the leftover food from used plates onto new ones, gave the results a hefty dose of soy sauce, and served it to the waiting miners. The patrons were so impressed with the food that they returned the next night and asked for more of the “shap sui,” which meant “mixed pieces” in Cantonese, from the night before.
Chop suey was born. Soon, restaurants all over California were serving the dish to Chinese immigrant laborers. As the immigrants spread across the country, they took their love for chop suey along with them. By the 1950s, Chinese restaurants were becoming popular with the general population of towns all across the Midwest, and chop suey was the perfect dish to appeal to the Midwestern palate.
Chop suey has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a desire for more authentic recipes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a great family meal. We love to make it with thinly sliced venison using the recipe below. There is no “true” recipe for the dish. Make it your own by adding or subtracting ingredients to fit your crew’s tastes.
1 1/2 pounds venison steak, sliced into thin strips across the grain
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 head of bok choy, chopped
2 cups mushrooms of choice, sliced
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
One 14-ounce can of bean sprouts, or two 8-ounce cans of bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups cooked rice
Fresh broccoli sprouts (optional)
Start by prepping the ingredients. Slice the venison and chop the vegetables. Mix the sauce ingredients except the cornstarch in a small bowl. Set the sauce aside.
Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. I prefer to do my stir-frying outdoors over a gas burner. This allows me to get the super hot temperatures found in Asian restaurants without smoking up my kitchen and setting off the fire alarm. Take care — temperatures this hot can cause your oil to occasionally combust in small bursts of flame.
Add the peanut oil. Once the oil begins to emit tiny wisps of smoke, add the venison, a bit at a time, and stir-fry quickly to sear the surface, about 30 seconds per batch. Move the cooked venison to a warm bowl and repeat until all the meat is cooked.
Add the yellow onion, bok choy, carrot, and mushrooms to the wok. Stir fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion and mushrooms soften. Add the garlic, the bean sprouts or bamboo shoots, and the green onions. Cook another 60 seconds. Add the meat back to the wok. Stir to combine.
Use a fork to whisk the cornstarch into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the meat and stir well to blend. Bring the mixture to a boil to thicken the sauce. Serve over rice. Top with fresh broccoli sprouts, if desired.
Share your recipes at #Timber2Table
Have a recipe you would like to suggest as a feature? Email us and let us know!