Chin-Chin-Charlie is an archetypal example of the mid-70s Chinese Casserole from A Book of Favorite Recipes. Like the Tuna Cashew Casserole, it’s a traditional meat-and-canned-soup casserole that’s somehow made “Chinese” by the inclusion of crunchy vegetables (usually celery) and chow mein noodles.
You may detect some vaguely racist overtones in the name of the recipe, though I can’t pinpoint the precise origins of the name. It may be a reference to the character Charlie Chan – another internet version of this recipe is titled “Chin Chan Charlie” – but I suspect it’s an unflattering American caricature of the Chinese language (along the lines of the pejorative “Ching Chong”). I don’t mean to project anything sinister on the good parishioners of Krakow, other than to simply observe that what seems harmless in one generation may not seem so to the next.
The recipe itself is quite salty, with two cans of highly salted condensed soup, canned vegetables, topped with a quarter cup of soy sauce. This aligns with the sensibilities of the times but will probably put off twenty-first century cooks. I’ve dialed down the salt in my adaptation by using low sodium versions of the soups and soy sauce and substituting fresh vegetables where possible. This retains, I believe, the character of the original while making it more palatable for the modern kitchen. I’ve also replaced the canned water chestnuts with bean sprouts, for no other reason than I think canned water chestnuts are foul.
- 1 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 sweet onion (finely chopped)
- 3 cups celery (bias sliced, divided)
- 4 oz sliced mushrooms
- 1 10 oz can cream of chicken soup (low sodium variety)
- 1 10 oz can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium variety)
- 1/2 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium variety)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 oz fresh bean sprouts
- 1 5 oz can chow mein noodles
- sesame seeds
- Brown beef in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion. mushrooms, and one cup of the celery and stir fry until mushrooms have expressed some liquid and vegetables are translucent and starting to wilt.
- Combine the beef mixture with the rest of the celery and all of the remaining ingredients except for the chow mein noodles and sesame seeds. Pour into a large casserole and bake in the oven, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes until edges are browned and bubbly and center is warm.
- Top with chow mein noodles and sprinkle with sesame seeds.