Lately, I've been craving some beefy noodles in a rich broth, something close to ya ka mein. Don't worry that you're not up on your Cajun or Creole foods if you've never heard of it--it's neither. Ya ka mein is a soup with these main characters: beef, soy sauce, and spaghetti noodles, topped with green onions and a hard-boiled egg. You see it at festivals, fundraisers, and Jazz Fest, and rarely anywhere else. Here's a little background on it, from the Gulf Aid concert in 2010:
And you can see that Ms. Linda's ya ka mein is totally slurp-worthy:
Now, the thing I remember most about this ya ka mein is that soy sauce is the predominant flavor, and these days, those delicately spiced broths you get in a good bowl of pho are more of what my palate craves. Because ya ka mein and pho aren't necessarily strangers to each other, I just decided to dress mine up with a yummy pho-style broth and some pho-style toppings. Kind of like ya ka mein showed up to the picnic in a fancy dress. So this version will be a lot of things that pho is--a bone-warmer, a sinus-clearer, and a hangover cure--but with a New Orleans street-food twist. Yeah, you right.
This recipe takes some time, but you can take a serious shortcut if you have some leftover shredded brisket or roast beef lying around. You could also simmer the spices in store-bought beef broth instead of making your own from bones, but you'd only save about 30 minutes and you'd spend a lot more money on the broth. Pho broth is so good, I say go for it. You can do the laundry and boil the eggs while the beef cooks.
ya ka mein with pho broth
for the broth:
- 2 lbs. beef soup bones with marrow
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 1" chunks of gingerroot
- 1 Tablespoon canola oil
- 2 large carrots, cut in half
- 6 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
for the soup:
- 2 lbs. beef stew meat, in large cubes
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- spaghetti noodles, about 2 oz. per person
- sliced green onions
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
- chopped cilantro
- sliced jalapeno peppers
- sriracha sauce
- First, make the broth: Heat the oven to 450. Place beef bones in a roasting pan in one layer, and roast for 15 minutes. Toss the onion, garlic, and ginger in a small pan with the canola oil. Place in the oven alongside the bones and roast for another 30 minutes, turning the bones halfway through.
- Place the bones and onion mixture in a large stockpot. Add 5 quarts fresh water (this is going to reduce a lot) and the carrots, star anise, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to a boil, skimming any foam that rises to the top, then reduce heat and simmer for one hour.
- Remove the bones and large solids. Set a strainer over a large bowl and line with cheesecloth; pour the broth through the strainer, then return to the pot.
- Make the soup: Add the beef cubes to the broth, bring to a boil, skimming any foam, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a lid set slightly ajar. Simmer for about 3 hours, until the beef is fork-tender, adding water in small amounts if necessary to keep enough broth in the pot for 6 to 8 servings. (If using leftover beef, simmer for about 30 minutes in the broth, uncovered--you'll want the broth to reduce down a lot faster.) When the beef is tender, remove the cubes to a plate and coarsely shred with two forks, then return them to the broth. Skim any fat you see floating at the top. Add soy sauce and rice vinegar; taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Keep warm over low heat while the noodles cook.
- Cook spaghetti according to package, based on the number of people eating now. Drain and reserve.
- To serve, place a portion of spaghetti in a large bowl. Ladle broth and beef over noodles, then top with green onions, cilantro, jalapeno slices, hard-boiled egg quarters, and sriracha sauce, if you like some heat.