Chin-Chin-Charlie is a meat-and-canned-soup casserole dressed up with traditionally Asian ingredients. This particular recipe comes to me by way of A Book of Favorite Recipes, a 1988 community cookbook from a Catholic parish in Krakow, Wisconsin, but these sorts of “Chinese” recipes show up frequently in older cookbooks. Like the Tuna Cashew Casserole, a traditional American-style casserole is somehow transformed into international fare by including crunchy vegetable, chow mein noodles, and/or rice in the final product.
I can’t pinpoint the precise origins of the name Chin-Chin-Charlie. Some variants of this recipe are titled Chin Chan Charlie, which may be a reference to the fictional detective Charlie Chan, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. Charlie Chan was the subject of dozens of novels, radio shows, and films from the 1920s through 1950s. It may also simply be an unflattering caricature of the Chinese language, along the lines of the pejorative “Ching Chong”.
I’ve made some adjustments to the recipe, mostly to dial down the sodium. The original recipe contains two cans of condensed soup, canned vegetables, and a quarter cup of soy sauce on top of all of that. Mercifully, both Campbell’s and store brands now offer reduced sodium versions of their cream soups. They are the only kind I buy, and highly recommended for this recipe. We are also fortunate to have much better access to fresh vegetables: I’ve replaced canned mushrooms with fresh and canned water chestnuts with bean sprouts. (but only because I think canned water chestnuts are foul).
With the sodium brought into check Chin-Chin-Charlie is a perfectly average casserole. The rice and vaguely Asian sensibilities are a welcome change of pace, but aside from novelty or nostalgia is has no place in a twenty-first-century kitchen.
- 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.