08
Jan
13

day 6: Chop Suey

Chop Suey

Chop Suey

I went to Palm Springs a few weeks ago and was reminded about the glamour of the 50’s and 60’s and how magical it was.  I love how Palm Springs and the people who have settled there never forgot that Hollywood and the celebrities of the mid century made it their get away spot.  My last trip made me realize how inspiring everything was during that time and how much of an influence that it had on culture, food, and people.  So, naturally, I started to do some research on the 50’s to learn more about the dishes, beverages, and designs that started or died in such an important moment in history.  And, because I’m always interested in food, ingredients, and ethnic cuisines and how they get their start in certain areas, I learned some cool facts about the history of Chinese restaurants.

In the late 1800’s, Chinese restaurants began to spring up in mining and railroad towns of the West Coast to accommodate workers who where primarily Chinese immigrants and mine workers from Toison or the Canton region.  Because of this, Chinese restaurants where filled with recipes from these regions like Egg Foo Young, and Moo Goo Gai Pan.  However, in the early 20’s restaurants began to cater more to American non-Chinese guests with the increased interest by White Americans to the non White (Jazz, the Jazz Singer, and now Chop Suey).  Egg Foo Young and Moo Goo Gai Pan became bland versions of Cantonese food to appeal to the American tastes of the time.  With this and the lack of access to authentic ingredients, dishes became something else and turned into egg omelets or stir-fries covered in brown gravy.

However, it was in the 50’s (to take it back to Palm Springs) that Chinese food began to become a dinner spot for American families to participate.  “Going for Chinese” became a phrase as common as going for Italian or going for French. Eventually in the 50’s, with the development of Hollywood culture, the industrial revolution, and the development of our Social Class system, the idea of eating out began to grow and was a weekly activity.  With this, Chinese restaurants began to create more formal and family dining experiences.  The dishes that where created in the 20’s have now become a staple in American culture and everyone knew of Chinese food the way many people know of it today.

It wasn’t until the 60’s when immigration policy began to shift to allow more Chinese immigrants into the US.  With the growing number of people from these communities, flavors and ingredients from Hunan and Szechuan began to make their way into the restaurant industry.  More spices and textures began to dominate the market as communities began to develop across the country.  Diners began to see American versions of Chinese food have flavor, spice, and texture to accommodate more of an “authentic” quality for the growing communities.  Americans began to start seeing the appearances of dishes like Hunan Beef, Orange Chicken, and Sweet and Sour Pork.  The rest was history.  Well, the rest was…Panda Express?

One of the things that sucks about Chinese American food is that it tastes so bland or one note.  It’s either really salty with some un-identifiable brown sauce, or is a plate of steamed broccoli, carrots, and bell pepper that is over cooked and raw at the same time.  But, I have a solution!  This version of Chop Suey comes from my sister in law’s mother.    She made it for Christmas two years ago and I realized then that Chop Suey can be flavorful, delicious, fresh, and fantastic. The sauce is made with vinegar, broth, and preserved vegetables to help highlight the fresh ingredients rather than a salty gravy to counter act any health benefits this could provide.

Researching the 50’s has inspired and interested me to cook the dishes the way that they where always intended.  You may find a recipe for Moo Goo Gai Pan or Egg Foo Young in the near future.  But I promise, I won’t touch Panda Express’ Orange Chicken.  That stuff is way too good and when one reaches perfection in a recipe, why would you change it?

~stuff

2 tbs vegetable, canola, peanut oil

1/2 c pickled vegetable

1/4 c shallots, diced

1 c carrots, julienne

4 stalks celery, 1/4 inch slices at an angle

1 c shitake mushroom, sliced (about 4 large caps)

1 c bamboo shoots, sliced

4 c sliced mixed vegetables [cabbage, bean sprouts, sugar snap peas, edamame…]

2 tbs soy sauce

1 tbs rice wine or cooking sherry

2 tbs black vinegar or 1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 c broth or water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground white pepper

~steps

heat a oil in a wok on high heat until screaming hot

sauté pickled vegetables and shallots in wok

add carrots, celery, mushroom and bamboo until carrots turn tender and celery turns a bright green color

add the rest of the vegetables and stir fry until slightly tender

season the dish with the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat down to medium

stir until the sauce is well incorporated into the vegetables and the greens are all slightly tender

-serves 8-

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3 Responses to “day 6: Chop Suey”


  1. 1 Diana aka "Tante"
    January 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Your recipe is awesome! Of course I added sour cream…What do you expect from Midwestern Krauthammer head? The 1st time I discovered Panda Express I was strained with Mr Pete &the Queen Mother at ONTARIO airport. we must have been visiting your parents & missed our return flight. Wow the Orange chicken made me a believer. Thanks for the memory


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