Yakamein is a fascinating dish. Believed to be a fusion of Chinese and/or Korean and Creole cuisine, the beef noodle soup has often been referred to as New Orleans’ “best kept secret,” or at least it was until the late Anthony Bourdain featured Chef Linda Green on an episode of No Reservations. I was born and partially raised in the neighbouring state of Mississippi — with cajun family! — and it somehow escaped my notice (and mouth) until quite recently.
Yakamein is a soup of variations. If goes by many names — e.g., yaka mein, yakameat, yock a mein, and old sober (for its curative properties) — and can be prepared and served with a wide variety of meat and sea/swampfood (such as shrimp, pork, or gator), with seasoning blends varying from chef to chef.
According to Food52, the exact origin of yakamein is “murky” and “hotly debated”:
While one theory claims that it was introduced by African American soldiers who fought in the Korean War and returned home with a desire for the noodle soup dishes they had grown accustomed to overseas, another professes that the dish originated in New Orleans’ now-extinct Chinatown (the product of Chinese immigrants who adapted their customary noodle soup to serve to the local Creole clientele).
The main components of yakamein are simple and filling: You need some stewed beef, most commonly chuck or brisket, wheat noodles (usually spaghetti), and creole seasoning. The broth is often flavored with ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and/or soy sauce, usually to taste. Hard boiled eggs and green onion are non-negotiable garnishes, though you can get it with parsley, onion, fried noodles, and pig feet.
There is no one “right” way to make yakamein, and many of the best recipes are closely guarded by those who develop them, which makes it a fun dish to play around with. Though commonly sold as a take-out hangover cure, there’s no reason you can’t make it at home, especially if you find yourself in need of old sober, and don’t live in the city of New Orleans.
Stewing the beef is the rate-determining step, but you can cut that down by a couple of hours through the clever use of your Instant Pot. Instead of simmering for three or four hours, you can pressure cook for one, and still end up with sumptuous shredded beef and a rich, deeply flavored broth.
As a white lady from Mississippi with lightly cajun roots, I hesitate to share a strict “recipe,” but I will share my method, and I will tell you the steps I took to make the yakamein you see in the bowl above (because that is my job). But I encourage you to seek out as many recipes and variations of this dish as you can find, and try them all, because yakamein is a dish that thrives on variation.
How to make yakamein in an Instant Pot
First, gather your ingredients. You will need:
- 900g-1.3 kg chuck roast
- 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
- 226-450 g of spaghetti, depending on how many people you’re feeding
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Louisiana hot sauce (I like the Louisiana brand or Crystal, not Tabasco.)
- Hard-boiled eggs (1 per bowl)
- Sliced green onion
- Parsley (optional)
- Any other cooked meat or seafood you want in there
Take your chuck roast, place it in your Instant Pot insert, and add enough water to cover. Add two teaspoons of Creole seasoning. (I use Tony Chachere’s, but feel free to use your favourite brand or make your own.) If you want things extra beefy, you can add a teaspoon of the roasted beef Better Than Bouillon, but that stuff is salty, so omit if you plan to use a lot of soy sauce.
Close up the Instant Pot, and cook under high pressure for an hour. Release the pressure, and pull on the beef with a couple of forks to see if it shreds easily. If not, cook for another 15 minutes under high pressure, and repeat until it pulls apart with ease.
Once you can shred the beef with a couple of forks and not too much force, remove it from the broth, place it in a bowl, and shred it. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil, then cook some spaghetti according to the package instructions.
While the noodles are cooking, turn your attention to the broth. Sample a spoonful, then add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup to taste. The amounts you add are deeply personal, but I ended up adding 1/4 cup soy sauce (tasting after each tablespoon so as not to overdo it on the sodium), a tablespoon of W sauce, and a tablespoon of ketchup. I also added many healthy dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce (not Tabasco).
Tweak the broth until you’re happy with it, then return the shredded beef to the pot. Divvy up the spaghetti amongst soup bowls, ladle the beef and broth on top, add any extra meat or seafood you desire, and garnish with halved hard boiled eggs, green onion, and parsley. Serve with the sauces on the table, so that people can doctor their yakamein as they desire.