A Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho) which is fragrant with lemongrass, star anise and cloves. Serve with crusty baguette or flat rice noodles. Recipe with step-by-step photos.
Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)
There are many who claim that Vietnamese Beef Stew, known as Bò Kho in Vietnamese, is derived from the French Boeuf aux Carottes. But upon closer inspection of both recipes, beef and carrots is pretty much all they have in common.
This classic Vietnamese dish takes the humble beef and carrot stew up a few notches with its generous use of fresh herbs and spices.
Where the French version is simple and comforting as a mere braise of beef and carrots with perhaps some tomatoes and thyme for additional flavour, the Vietnamese counterpart is fragrant with lemongrass, cloves, star anise and Chinese five-spice powder, and has a spicy kick when served with Thai basil and red chillies.
The only thing both dishes have in common is the crusty baguette served alongside, an idea which the Vietnamese undoubtedly borrowed from the French.
Bo Kho Recipe
My mother first taught me to make Bo Kho using a packet of pre-mixed spices from the Vietnamese grocery store which was employed in the marinade for the meat.
There’s nothing wrong at all in using these pre-mixed spices; I probably would have continued to do so but for the fact that I moved to Switzerland and the variety of Asian food products here is rather limited (although continually improving).
I had experimented with several recipes for this dish over the years with vague success until, one day, a good friend of mine revealed that her secret ingredient was … Coca-Cola.
And this instantly reminded me that my mother used Sarsparilla in her own version of this dish. (She used to teasingly offer me the leftover Sarsparilla to drink, but the mere smell would make me run in the other direction!)
Coca-Cola sounds to be an unusual ingredient but the bubbles have a marvellous way of tenderising the meat, and the sugar content of this fizzy drink means that you can dispense with any sugar in the dish. If you’re a bit apprehensive about using Coca-Cola, don’t be; you need barely a glassful for this recipe.
You can also omit to the Coca-Cola, if you wish. Simply add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil instead to help the marinade coat the meat.
How to Make Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)
Whisk the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl. Add the beef and make sure all of the pieces are coated in the marinade. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate for at least 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight.
Heat some oil over medium-high heat in a large pot which will take all of the ingredients later.
Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen paper.
Brown the beef in batches until they are nicely golden on all sides. Due to the sugar content in the marinade, take care not to burn the meat.
Remove the browned meat to a large plate.
Sauté the onions and garlic in the same pan until they have softened.
Add the tomato paste or canned tomatoes, together with the stock, salt, star anise, cloves, and lemongrass.
Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
Return the beef to the pot, and add the carrots and daikon. You should have enough liquid to just cover the meat and vegetables.
Turn the heat down to low, and simmer gently with the lid half on for about 2-3 hours, or until the meat is tender. The cooking time will depend on how big your pieces of meat are.
Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
How to Serve Vietnamese Beef Stew
This particular stew typically has bite-sized pieces of beef and carrots which are eaten with chopsticks, and the liquid broth is intended to be sipped with a spoon.
French inspiration can certainly be found in how the dish is served; the Vietnamese usually eat Bo Kho with some crusty baguette (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery) to soak up the aromatic broth, but it can also be served with some flat rice noodles for a more Asian affair.
When serving Vietnamese Beef Stew, the bread is actually a significant component – think half a baguette per person.
Tips For Making Vietnamese Beef Stew
To make this dish knife and fork friendly and a bit more elegant, I prefer to use large pieces of braising meat (about 1 to 2 per person) rather than small, diced up pieces. The large pieces take a little longer to cook, but I find the texture to be much nicer and more tender. But feel free to use smaller pieces as this is more traditional.
I also love carrots in my stew and tend to go rather overboard with them, so use as little or as much as you like, noting that the carrots will add a subtle sweetness to your stew.
More Vietnamese Recipes
If you are looking for more Vietnamese recipes, you might also like:Print
Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)
- Marinating Time: 2-3 hours
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: Serves 4-8
- Category: Instant Pot
- Method: Stove
- Cuisine: Vietnamese
A Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho) which is fragrant with lemongrass, star anise and cloves. Serve with crusty baguette or flat rice noodles. Recipe also for Instant Pot and pressure cooker.
For the marinade
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spive powder
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- 250 ml (1 cup) Coca-Cola (optional, see Kitchen Notes below)
- 1.5 kg (3 lb) beef brisket or chuck steak
For the Beef & Carrot Stew
- vegetable oil
- 1 brown onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste or 1 x 400 g (14 oz) canned diced tomatoes
- 2 litres (8 cups) beef stock
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 3 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 3 lemongrass stalks, bruised
- 5 large carrots (or more), peeled and sliced thickly (about 1 cm thick) on the diagonal
- 1 large daikon, peeled and sliced thickly (about 1 cm thick)
- Thai basil, torn
- coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
- red chillies, finely chopped
- crusty bread
Instructions for stove top
- In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade.
- Cut the beef brisket or chuck steak into large pieces, about 5 x 10 cm / 2 x 4 inches.
- Place the beef into the marinade and make sure all of the pieces are coated.
- Cover the bowl with some cling film.
- Place the bowl in the fridge for the meat to marinate for at least 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight.
- Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen paper.
- Let the meat come to room temperature before cooking.
- In a large saucepan, heat some oil and brown the beef in batches. Due to the sugar content in the Coca-Cola, the meat will brown quickly and will burn easily if you do not keep a close eye.
- Set the browned beef aside in a bowl.
- In the same pan, cook the onions and garlic until they have softened.
- Add the tomato paste or canned tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.
- Add the stock, salt, star anise, cloves and lemongrass.
- Bring to the pan to the boil and return the meat to the pan, together with the carrots and daikon.
- Simmer gently on low heat with the lid half on, for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is tender.
- Remove the lid and skim off any excess fat.
- Continue simmering for about 10 minutes without the lid, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
- Taste for seasoning.
Instructions for pressure cooker
- Follow the recipe as above, but use slightly less liquid than stated in the recipe (about 1.5 litres or 6 cups). Make sure that the pan is not more than 2/3 full with ingredients, and that the liquid does not completely cover the meat and vegetables.
- Cook in the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but it should take about 25-30 minutes at high pressure.
- After this time, carefully release the pressure before removing the lid to check if the beef is tender.
- Skim off any excess fat.
- Taste for seasoning.
- Continue to simmer on medium heat on the stove (without the lid) so that the sauce can thicken a little. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
Instructions for Instant Pot
- Follow the recipe as above until Step 7.
- Use the Sauté function for Steps 8 to 13.
- Use about 1.5 litres or 6 cups of stock. The liquid should not completely cover the meat and vegetables.
- Once all of the ingredients are in the Instant Pot, set the Instant pot to Manual at High Pressure for 30 minutes.
- Once the time is up, do a quick release.
- Taste for seasoning.
- Continue to simmer on medium heat (without the lid) so that the sauce can thicken a little. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
* Use beef short ribs. The bones will add lots of flavour to the sauce. Use about 2 kg (4.4 lb) for the above recipe and ask your butcher to cut them into short lengths.
* Use whole baby carrots in place of normal carrots. Take care not to overcook them as they can break and disintegrate.
* Add whole, peeled baby onions. Take care not to overcook them as they can break and disintegrate.
* Add whole, peeled baby potatoes. The starch from the potatoes will help to thicken the sauce as well.
* Omit the Coca-Cola. This is used to tenderise the meat during the marinating time but you can omit it without too much effect on the final result. I would suggest adding instead 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the marinade to help everything coat the meat.
* Use smaller pieces of meat. If you prefer to use smaller pieces of meat (about 4 cm / 2 inch cubes) you will need to reduce the cooking time accordingly.
SERVE WITH BREAD
This dish is traditionally served with loaves of crusty baguette which are used to dunk into the sauce.
SERVE WITH NOODLES
For a gluten-free meal, it is also common to serve this dish with flat rice noodles. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions until they have softened. Drain and lightly rinse the noodles. Place a serve of noodles into a large bowl, and ladle just enough broth to cover the noodles and top with the meat, vegetables and garnish.
To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.
- Serving Size: Nutritional info per serve
- Calories: 461
- Sugar: 6.7g
- Sodium: 3130.3mg
- Fat: 29.3g
- Carbohydrates: 14.9g
- Fiber: 2.6g
- Protein: 33.6g
- Cholesterol: 102.2mg
This recipe was first published on 6 February 2014. It has been updated with more comprehensive recipe notes.