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Recipe for Rhode Island chop suey (macaroni and meat sauce)

Rhode Island chop suey, made with traditional hot weiner spices!

Do you remember American chop suey, a dish whose name has absolutely nothing to do with its contents? In the part of the country where I grew up, the mac-and-meat-sauce casserole found its way into every school cafeteria and church supper. It even followed me to sleepaway camp, thanks to a cook who got his kicks whipping up noodle dishes for 200. Here's a Rhode Island spin on the classic, featuring a spice mix that usually stars in the sauce that tops our state's famous hot weiners. If you live near me, look for the blue box of Harry's New York System Original Weiner Sauce (the dry spice blend) in your grocery store. If you don't, the recipe below makes enough for this dish and more, or substitute your favorite chili powder mixed with a bit of celery salt.

Rhode Island chop suey, a mac-and-meat casserole.

Rhode Island chop suey (macaroni and meat sauce)

From the pantry, you'll need: dried pasta, garlic, onion, canned chopped tomatoes, sugar, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, red wine vinegar.

Serves 6-8.


8 oz whole wheat elbow macaroni (or other curly whole wheat pasta)
1 lb ground sirloin beef (at least 94% lean)
1 medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1-2 Tbsp Rhode Island wiener spice mix (*or use the recipe below to mix your own)
26 oz canned chopped tomato (I use POMI, in a box)
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
1 tsp red wine vinegar (optional)


Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, and rinse to stop the cooking. Set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce: In a very large frying pan, brown the beef over medium-low heat until it's no longer pink. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and green pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, until the onion and celery is translucent.

Stir in the weiner spice mix (or chili powder), and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Then, add the tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces slightly.

Add the reserved pasta and the 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, and combine everything in the pan so the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes. Taste, and if the sauce seems sweet, add a splash of red wine vinegar.

Serve hot. Or, cool completely, and refrigerate or freeze.

*To mix your own weiner spices, combine 1 tsp cumin, 1 Tbsp paprika, 1 Tbsp celery salt, 1 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp ground allspice, and 2 tsp dry mustard. There are dozens of recipes and spice combinations, but in all of them, celery salt is key.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Rotini with spicy meat sauce
Spicy Asian grilled chicken and pasta salad
Spaghetti and meat sauce
Tex-Mex penne
Chicken tortilla casserole

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Talerine beef casserole, from Simply Recipes
Szechuan beef, from The Wicked Noodle
Baked pasta shells with beef, sundried tomatoes and spinach, from Cookin' Canuck
Penne with hearty beef ragu, from Confections of a Foodie Bride
Baked ziti penne pasta with ground beef, from Created by Diane

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I'm tempted...
Oddly, I never heard of American Chop Suey until I was an adult (and that was quite a while ago).

I checked my "Eat Your Books" index of my cookbooks, and the only American Chop Suey found was in my mother's copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1950. The recipe calls for 'chop suey sauce' -- leaving the cook in the dark (or at least, me)! Maybe it was soy sauce?

I could have sworn I grew up in America, but this is the second reference to American Chop Suey that I've read about recently--and I'd never heard the term before this.

Looks yummy, though--can't go wrong with those ingredients, though I giggled when I read "wiener spices"

Thanks, Lydia!

I never heard this name.... In the midwest we called it goulash. It was also everywhere, always.... a staple of homes, schools and churches! (Usually made with that pantry staple canned Tomato Soup)

Susan, American chop suey was a favorite of all the moms in my neighborhood when I was growing up. I can only imagine that they all had the same cookbook! I don't recall any soy sauce in the recipe, though. The name comes from the mixed-up nature of the dish, which has absolutely nothing to do with Chinese food.

Kirsten, it could be that this is a very regional name.

Katie, Goulash to us was something more stew-like. There are many variations of American chop suey, and I'm sure some have canned tomato soup because that was such a pantry staple in the post-war years.

Dishes just like this are so comforting to me. We just called it goulash but it has the necessary crunch of celery too.

Bellini, I love the regional differences in dishes like this. But celery seems to be a constant.

..as you know I am a fellow New Englander, I am very familiar with "American Chop Suey" - but I have to say your recipe takes this humble dish into almost gourmet status!!

I remember the first time I had Chop Suey - it was awful, but I don't think it was American Chop Suey, just some mish mash of soggy vegetables. Your Rhode Island version looks like a very kid friendly meal, and something similar to a dish my mom made once in a while when I was growing up.

Carol, I'll bet you have the same memories of American chop suey -- school lunch, right?

Jeanette, I've had that version of chop suey, also. I think it all came from a can! This one is definitely kid friendly, and would be easy to make gluten-free with a change in the pasta.

Lydia - you bet and not only school lunch, but an almost weekly staple at our dinner table too! LOL!

Love that this is called Chop Suey where you are from! I have a similar recipe from a Kansas friend she called Full Meal. It would be greatly enhanced by that weiner spice mix. Is it OK that I'm over here chuckling at the names of these things?

I grew up on American Chop Suey. My family came from Maine and it was one of our regular meals. The way Mom made hers was with elbow macaroni, hamburger meat, chopped onion, condensed tomato soup, catsup, salt and pepper.

About this dish.... I’m 74 and grew up in Rhode Island. Many years ago I read an article (which I cannot find!) saying that American Chop Suey was born in RI and consisted of ONLY: tomatoes, onion, macaroni, salt and pepper. To add ANYTHING else was to turn it into something else! Needless to say we need not be purists but I thought the article worth mentioning. Would carry more weight if I could find the source! Ha!

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