This week, a tweet from @TimmyTwoShirts drew attention to a surprisingly controversial question: what’s this dish called?
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While the mixture of minced meat† Macaroniand tomato sauce seems simple enough, thousands of users responded with a whole host of different names. Beefaroni, goulash, slumgullion, Johnny Marzetti, American Chop Suey – the list goes on. But how did this casserole come to be, and why can’t anyone agree on the name?
The dish as we know it has a few different origins. For those who call it goulash, your recipe may be from a 1914 edition of The Women’s Educational Club Cookbook† This iteration called for stewing cubes of beef before adding tomatoes, bell peppers, Tabasco, and onion juice. While it may share a name with the classic goulash from Eastern Europe, its Hungarian connection is thin at best.
Around the same time, the 1916 Army Chef’s Guide published their recipe for American Chop Suey. Instead of using paprika, chunks of meat were simmered in stock and barbecue sauce. The stew was usually served over rice in an attempt to resemble its inspiration: the Chinese American dish chop suey.
These dishes may have been the starting point, but over time they have taken on a life of their own. Later versions of the casserole played with different aromatics and ingredients such as cabbage, peppers and olives, before streamlining the dish in the 1960s. Instead of hard pot roasts, recipes began calling for quick-cooking ground beef. The traditional accompaniment of rice was also exchanged for spaghetti and later macaroni. The dish became an all-encompassing casserole that could breathe new life into leftover ingredients.
What didn’t streamline, however, was the name. Over time, even more nicknames for the pasta dish have been coined. Some names were tied to a region, such as the Johnny Marzetti Casserole from Columbus, Ohio. Others were astringents of the ingredients, such as beefaroni and chili mac.
But some of the most popular names follow the early 20th-century trend of borrowing names from existing dishes. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink notes the pattern of American . on stew meals took the names of mixed dishes from all over the world, such as goulash, chop suey and slumgullion (from the British salmagundi).
While they may come from different sources of inspiration, the names represent the same concept in the mind. No matter how you grew up making this pasta dish and whatever nickname you use, you’re still enjoying an important piece of American food history.
We were curious where Team Delish stood in this area, so we asked our own food experts. Everyone came up with something different: “hamburger helper”, “cheeseburger macaroni”, “goulash” and even “beef and macaroni”.
But we can all agree on one thing: it’s the ultimate weekday meal. View our classic goulash recipeor spice it up with this one cheese† Chilior sloppy joe versions.
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