A few things to know after you watch the episode:
1. I don’t know what I was talking about, or what happened with the editing, but a gizzard does not help a chicken digest “meat.” It’s a digestion aid in general, where chickens store small stones to help them grind food.
2. Some people enjoy the texture of a chicken gizzard. It’s been described by people who love it as “crunchy,” which is exactly how I would describe it. It was like biting into a meat apple.
By the turn of the century, New York had a large Chinatown, although its expansion had been frozen by the strict Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This law was the first to enforce a restriction on immigration in our country and did so on the basis of race. Chinese workers, who were seen as a threat to the American economy because they would work longer hours for less pay, were banned entry to the United States. They were not allowed to become citizens and were not allowed to send for their wives and children.
The result was a dominantly male enclave surrounding Mott street; many of the men worked and owned laundries and cooks, “female” work was one of the few jobs in which they could find opportunities. Chinatown became an object of fascination for New Yorkers and tourists alike, and “slumming” parties (their words, not mine) were led through the neighborhood, complete with a guide and police escort. In addition to viewing an opium-smoking demo, groups were almost always taken to the Chop Suey houses. As a result, Chop Suey became a faddish dish in America. By the 1920s it was an avant-garde dish for dinner parties, accompanied by an exotic “show you” sauce. By the 1950s, housewives across American were stocking their cabinets with bottles of Kikkoman and the dish became a weeknight staple.
The recipe I used for chop suey comes from a 1902 newspaper article that William Grimes dug up in his research for the book Appetite City. You can read the full article, reprinted in the Pittsburgh Press, here. Although the dish seems to be invented here in America, it’s one of those iconic foods whose origin is shrouded in myth. Many stories exists, none of them seem to be factual. But perhaps there wasn’t a single origin point; it seems more likely that America’s Chop Suey is the logical descendant of dishes available in China that use up little scraps of everything. Perhaps no one before had named the adaptable stir fry that became so iconic to Americans. From the Evening Post:
“Chop suey, the national dish of China for at least twenty-five centuries, bids fair to become a standard food in this country. There are some 60 Chinese restaurants scattered over the different boroughs of Greater New York, whose cheif attraction is this popular composition, and several American restaurant have endeavored to take advantage of its popularity by adding it to their daily bill of fair. There is a rediculous amount of mystery concerning the dish. It is simple, economical, and easily made.”
Give it a try, and decide for yourself.
From the New York Evening Post, 1902.
1 lb pork
2 chicken livers
2 chicken gizzards
1/4 lb celery
1/4 lb canned mushrooms
1/4 lb bean sprouts
4 tb oil
1 tb chopped onions
1/2 clove garlic
white & red pepper
Worcestershire Sauce or Shoyu (Soy) Sauce
1. Make rice.
3. Put oil into a skillet over high heat. Add meat, celery, and fry until lightly colored. Add 1/2 cup boiling water, onions, garlic and seasonings. Cook approximately five more minutes, or until nearly tender, stirring constantly; then add mushrooms and bean sprouts and cook two minutes more.