Monday, January 17, 2011

231. Chop Suey, Peasant Food

Chop suey was the Chinese-style food fixed most often in my childhood home and certainly pre-dated the stir-fry-wok craze. I don't know if my mother developed her own version of this meal or if it was a dish passed down from her mother. There was nothing very inspiring about its overall look or texture...but it tasted wonderful to me.

I remember that most of the vegetables were slightly over-cooked...except for those amazing things called water chestnuts. They were always crunchy and because I loved them, my mother usually put a few extra on  my plate. As the meal came together and the sauce began to thicken, we fairly drooled over the delicious plates of food that would soon be carried to the table.

Mother would place steaming rice in the middle of each plate and then the chop suey was spooned on top until only the edges of rice could be seen. A generous handful of dry, oriental noodles was sprinkled on our servings...and that completed the meal. It was a feast of sorts and very satisfying. We loved this simple, peasant food and felt lucky to be enjoying it.

The vegetables are more crisp in this version of chop suey, but it still has the flavor of that old-fashioned dish my mother served.

Chop Suey

2 T oil
1 ½ pounds pork, beef, or chicken

1 T butter

2 C celery cut in 1-inc pieces on the diagonal
1-2 carrots, cleaned and sliced in 1/2-inch chunks
2 C sweet onions, sliced into wedges
1 ¼ lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
1-2  cloves garlic, chopped

Optional vegetables: sliced green or red peppers, sliced zucchini

1 1/2 C broth, heated
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
½ tsp salt

1/4 C cornstarch combined with 1/4 C cold water
Gravy master
Soy sauce

Hot rice
Peanuts (optional)
Chow Mein noodles (optional)

Cut meat into short strips and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put oil in large frying pan over moderate-high heat. Only braise the amount of meat that will fit into the pan without causing it to steam;  brown meat well while stir-frying. Remove cooked meat and keep warm;  brown remaining pieces and remove from pan.

Melt 1 T butter in pan and add cut celery, carrots, onions, musrooms and garlic and stir fry until vegetables are tender crisp. Do not burn garlic. Add broth and water chestnuts; and season with salt to taste. Add meat to the pan of vegetables.

Mix cornstarch and the cold water in a cup. Add to meat mixture and stir until combined. Add soy sauce to taste and Gravy Master 1 tsp at a time to add color to dish. Cook until sauce is thick and glazy, about 5 minutes, then turn down heat let simmer about 5 more minutes.

Serve over hot rice and have crunchy, dry oriental noodles on the side. Sprinkle with peanuts if desired.

A chop suey dinner with a more creative selection of vegetables and the addition of peanuts.
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