Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Chop Suey

Long before there was a Chinese café in small town Saskatchewan, there was chop suey. The Chinese dish "tsap seui" refers to a mix of this and that, undoubtedly in the repertoire of every cook who immigrated from the south of China.

Chinese men came to Canada to help build the national railway. When that was completed in 1885, they settled in railway towns to open restaurants, grocery stores and laundries. In the census of 1901, there were 41 people of Chinese ancestry living in Saskatchewan (or, more accurately, what would become the province of Saskatchewan in 1905).

The largest Chinese community at that time was in Moose Jaw where, in 1913, there were 450 Chinese men and two women. This imbalance of the sexes was due to the fact that the federal government imposed a "head tax" of $500 on new immigrants from China and eventually barred women and children outright.

The first Chinese cafés served typically North American foods such as cheese sandwiches and hamburger steak, but with time and perhaps curiosity, their clientele ventured to try the exotic dishes of the Orient – albeit greatly westernized.Thus our prairie palates were introduced to wonton soup, egg rolls, sweet and sour spare ribs and chicken chow mein.

Tsap seui became chop suey. Because the recipe wasn't set in stone, Chinese cooks were able to use whatever meat and vegetables were available at the time. This version uses vegetables that were grown in Saskatchewan more than a century ago.


Chop Suey
1 lb (450 grams) pork, beef or chicken
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, diagonally sliced
1 cup cabbage or kale, sliced
15–20 edible pod peas, cut in half
3 spring onions, cut diagonally in 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup chicken or beef broth

Cut meat in strips diagonally across the grain. Mix together soy sauce, 2 tbsp vegetable oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Add meat and marinate 2 hours.

In a wok or skillet, heat the remaining 1 tbsp vegetable oil on high. Drain meat from marinade (reserving marinade) and cook 1 minute. Remove meat from skillet. Add vegetables and reserved marinade. Cook 2 minutes.

Whisk together cornstarch and broth until smooth. Add to skillet with meat. Cook until thickened and heated through. Taste and add salt if desired. Serve on hot rice.

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(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)




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