Oct 062015


According to Wikipedia, Chop Suey has been around in America since at least the 1890’s. It translates to odds and ends or bits and pieces. The following recipe is based upon the one created by La Choy foods back in the 1920’s. La Choy continued to share this recipe with consumers until at least the 1970’s. It was many Americans only exposure to Chinese food in the early 20th Century. Nowadays, it seems plebian and perhaps, uninspired. Back then though, it was the height of haute cuisine. Times change. Tastes change. Chop Suey is still a tasty and budget-friendly family dish, easily prepared from panty staples.

thrifty_chop_sueyI’ve adapted La Choy’s original recipe to use canned chicken and I’ve spiced it up a bit to make it more appealing to modern appetites. This is my family’s favorite recipe for Pantry Friendly Chop Suey. I’ve been making it since the late 1980’s so you know it’s well-tested.

Chop Suey, prepared according to this method, is very much an American dish. It has some Asian elements but it’s not Chinese food. It’s American food that has put on a pretty chinese dress and shown up at the church potluck with chop sticks in its hair, smiling brightly and claiming all the compliments for such novel and delicious “foreign food.”

By the way, to turn Chop Suey into Chow Mein, simply serve it over crunchy chow mein noodles, instead of rice. Also, if you dont’ want to use chicken, you can use canned salmon, SPAM or canned tuna instead. After chicken, SPAM Chop Suey is my family’s favorite.

The recipe below does use fresh celery or cabbage and fresh onion, all of which are economical. If you don’t have access to these, see the note following the recipe for pantry-friendly alternatives.

As for cost, as of Fall 2015, this recipe (with fresh onion and celery) costs me about $1.25 per serving, including long grain white rice–not including the canned fruit, which would add about 40¢, making a complete gluten-free, dairy-free meal for well under $2 per serving.

Pantry Friendly Chop Suey


  • 2 or 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped OR 2-cups sliced cabbage
  • 1 (12-ounce) can chicken
  • 1 (28-ounce) can stir-fry vegetables, drained and rinsed
  • 1-1/2 to 2-cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8-teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4-teaspoon EACH garlic powder, dry ginger and ground red pepper or pepper flakes
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water


Begin by peeling the onion. Chop it in half (from root to tip) then cut into thin slices. Separate the pieces with your fingers so you have many thin pieces. Wash the celery or cabbage and chop it too.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the celery or cabbage and onion. Stir-fry for about 5-minutes, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.

While the vegetables are cooking open the canned vegetables and drain them in a colander. Thoroughly rinse in clean water then drain again.

Open up the canned chicken. Drain the canning liquid into a glass measuring cup. Add enough water to equal 1-1/2 cups liquid.

In a small bowl or coffee cup combine the soy sauce, cornstarch and 2-tablespoons water. Stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

When the vegetables in the skillet are tender-crisp add the canned chicken, canned stir-fry vegetables, 1-1/2 cups water, sugar, pepper, garlic, ginger, red pepper and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil. Stir in the cornstarch  mixture. Simmer and stir for a couple of minutes, or until the sauce is thickened. If desired you may add up to 1/2-cup more water if you want the sauce to be thinner. You may or may not need it.

Serve over hot rice. I use 1-1/2 cups of rice cooked in 3-cups of water. Start the rice first, before you begin the chop suey. This will allow for both to be done at the same time.

If desired garnish with a few peanuts scattered over top, or chow mein noodles if you prefer. I use peanuts because they are gluten-free. The extra crunch of peanuts or chow mein noodles makes the dish more appealing in my opinion.

Serve with canned mandarin oranges or a combination of mandarin oranges and pineapple.

Makes 4-hearty servings.

Notes: If you don’t have access to fresh foods then you can omit the onion and celery. Begin the recipe by combining the water and canned goods. Add the oil along with the chicken. Then proceed as directed. To make up for the onion and celery, try one of the following alternatives.

  1. 15-ounce jar of baby onions, well-drained.
  2. 15-ounce can french style green beans and 4-ounce can mushrooms, both well-drained and 2 tablespoons dry onion flakes.
  3. 1/4 cup EACH dry celery and dry onions, added along with the water. Allow them to simmer for a few minutes to reconstitute before adding the canned goods.
  4. 2 to 3-cups sprouted lentils or other homegrown sprouts. These should be started several days before they are needed. Also add 2-tablespoons of dehydrated onion flakes for flavor. The sprouts do not need to be fried in the oil unless you really want to. They are tender enough to simply add along with the canned vegetables and chicken.

If you are gluten-free then be sure to use gluten-free versions of your ingredients, especially the soy sauce. Do not use chow mein noodles, wich are full of wheat flour.


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