Vietnamese Beef Stew

A Vietnamese Beef Stew 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.

vietnamese beef stew in white bowl with platter of sliced bread in background

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

With all of the French recipes I have been posting lately on this blog, I thought it was time to change the tune a little and post one of my favourite Vietnamese recipes. But as I set about preparing this post, I realised that this particular dish is actually a Vietnamese version of a French classic. Or is it?

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.

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.


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step by step photos for making vietnamese beef stew

My mother used to only make this stew on special occasions, such as when we had guests over for dinner. But now that I find myself typically cooking stews and braises for dinner parties because of the convenience of being able to make them ahead of time, I suppose this was my also mother’s tactic when she was entertaining.

How to Make Vietnamese Beef Stew

My mother first taught me to make Vietnamese Beef Stew 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.

I gasped in shock, although I shouldn’t have been so surprised because I had seen recipes for this dish using Coca-Cola or Sarsparilla, but had dismissed them on the grounds of lacking authenticity.

But as this dear friend happens to be a fine Vietnamese chef who very rarely shares recipes, or secret ingredients for that matter, I regarded this momentary drop in guard as something not to be ignored.

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.

vietnamese beef stew with glass of red wine in background

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 this stew 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.

Being married to a Frenchman who I frequently confuse with the simultaneous use of chopsticks with knives and forks, I tend to make this stew so that it can be eaten more elegantly with just a knife and fork, although any attempt at refinement is often lost because you really do need to use your hands to dip the bread into the broth.

But I have noticed that our French friends find a way to neatly soak the bread with their cutlery before cutting it into bize-sized pieces, thereby avoiding any caveman-like use of their hands. Or perhaps they just weren’t sure how to eat the bread because, in contrast to what the Vietnamese (in Vietnam) think, the French tend to only reach for the bread at the start of the meal or when the cheese course is served.

When serving Vietnamese Beef Stew, the bread is actually a significant component (think half a baguette per person).

vietnamese beef stew with torn pieces of crusty baguette
{Vietnamese Beef & Carrot Stew made with bite-sized pieces of meat and chopped carrots}

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.

And in an effort to make this stew less meat-heavy, I also like to add baby onions, another tip from my friend in her rare moment of recipe bonding. I think the baby onions add a touch of refinement to the dish, but be careful because not everyone likes onions, even if they’re small and cute.

More Vietnamese Recipes

If you are looking for more Vietnamese recipes, you might also like:

Beef Pho

Bun Cha

Chicken Pho

Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Lemongrass Chicken

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Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

4.7 from 3 reviews

A Vietnamese Beef Stew 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.

  • Author: eatlittlebird.com
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-8 1x
  • Category: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Vietnamese

Ingredients

For the marinade

For the Beef & Carrot Stew

  • vegetable oil
  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 litres (8 cups) beef stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, bruised
  • 250 g (8 oz) baby onions
  • 5 large carrots, sliced thickly on the diagonal

To serve

  • Thai basil
  • red chillies, finely chopped
  • fresh, crusty baguette

Instructions

Instructions for stove top

  1. Cut the beef brisket or chuck steak into large pieces and place in a large zip-lock freezer bag.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade.
  3. Pour the marinade into the freezer bag.
  4. Close the bag securely and make sure all of the meat is coated in the marinade.
  5. Marinate the meat in the fridge for 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight.
  6. 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.
  7. Set the browned beef aside in a bowl.
  8. In the same pan, cook the onions and garlic until they have softened.
  9. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.
  10. Add the stock, salt, star anise, cloves and lemongrass.
  11. Bring to the pan to the boil and return the meat to the pan, together with the carrots and baby onions.
  12. Simmer gently for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender (see Kitchen Notes below for tips on using a pressure cooker).
  13. In the last hour of cooking, add the peeled baby onions, taking care not to overcook them.
  14. Skim off any excess fat.
  15. Taste for seasoning.
  16. Serve with Thai basil, chillies and slices of crusty baguette.

Instructions for pressure cooker

  1. Follow the recipe as above, but use slightly less liquid than stated in the recipe (about 1.5 litres or 6 cups), and make sure that the pan is not more than 2/3 full with ingredients, and that the liquid does not cover the meat and vegetables.
  2. Cook in the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but it should take about 25-30 minutes at high pressure.
  3. After this time, carefully release the pressure before removing the lid to check if the beef is tender.
  4. Skim off any excess fat.
  5. Continue to simmer on medium heat on the stove (without the lid) so that the sauce can thicken. This should take about 10 minutes or so.

NOTE: I think it is fine to cook the beef together with the carrots and baby onions at the same time. The vegetables will have softened after this time, but they should still keep their shape. However, I recommend cutting the carrots into very thick chunks or slices when using the pressure cooker.

Instructions for Instant Pot

  1. Follow the recipe as above until Step 6.
  2. Use the Sauté function to cook in Steps 6, 8 and 9.
  3. Use about 1.5 litres or 6 cups of stock. The liquid should not cover the meat and vegetables.
  4. Once all of the ingredients are in the Instant Pot, set the Instant pot to Manual at High Pressure for 30 minutes.
  5. Once the time is up, do a quick release.
  6. Taste for seasoning.

NOTE: I think it is fine to cook the beef together with the carrots and baby onions at the same time. The vegetables will have softened after this time, but they should still keep their shape. However, I recommend cutting the carrots into very thick chunks or slices when using the Instant Pot.

Kitchen Notes

To turn this humble stew into something more fancy, use whole baby carrots in place of normal carrots. Take care not to overcook them as they can break and disintegrate – the same applies to the baby onions.

I also like to add thickly sliced daikon radishes to this stew, instead of using baby onions. Cut them the same size as the carrots so that they can cook at the same time.

To serve this stew with flat rice noodles, cook the noodles according to the packet instructions until they have softened. While the noodles are still warm, ladle just enough broth to cover the noodles and top with the meat, vegetables and garnish.

Nutrition

  • 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

#eatlittlebird

Update

This recipe was first published on 6 February 2014.

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29 comments

  1. Oh lovely! It’s kinda like the Chinese one on the good food site, but sounds much better! Coca-Cola makes sense for the reasons you have mentioned. Looks totally delicious Thanh 🙂

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 6 February 2014

      The flavours are quite different to the Chinese Braised Beef, but both are very delicious. Actually, I make the Chinese Braised Beef quite often but haven’t yet done so for guests. I’m more likely to make this Vietnamese stew when we have friends over because it’s a bit different. But both are definitely winter favourites in our home 🙂

      Reply
  2. Anna 6 February 2014

    So well written and presented Thanh! It sure isn’t winter here but I’d love a serve please 😉

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 6 February 2014

      Oh I couldn’t imagine eating this dish in the heatwave you’re experiencing at the moment in Australia! Can you guess who it was that revealed her secret ingredient to me?? 😉 I’m already putting in my request for her to make this dish and many others when we are next in Brisbane (hopefully soon!).

      Reply
      • Anna 7 February 2014

        I’ve only ever cooked this once – used my aunt’s recipe and it was seriously an intense labour of love. I think I’ll wait for your return for our friend to cook it 😉 We went to visit her new eatery today and it was unsurprisingly super busy and delicious!! When are you coming home??

        Reply
        • eat, little bird 8 February 2014

          Hopefully sometime this year … but I think we say that every year?? You’ll be among the first to know 🙂 And our first food stop will be T’s new eatery!

          Reply
  3. Donna 6 February 2014

    This looks absolutely delicious! I love braised dishes at this time of year so I will be giving this one a try. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 6 February 2014

      Thanks, Donna! Hope you will enjoy this recipe. It’s a bit different to your usual beef stew but I think it’s worth trying 🙂

      Reply
  4. Gina 7 February 2014

    My mom loves making this alongside big, fluffy vietnamese baguettes 🙂 She said that it makes a good breakfast!

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 8 February 2014

      Absolutely! The Vietnamese love their hot breakfasts and I would be happy to sit down to a bowl of this in the morning with a hot baguette loaf, fresh from the oven. Mmmm 🙂

      Reply
  5. Paula 7 February 2014

    I’m not much of stew, but your photos are soooo beautiful, that even makes me want to eat it!! Well, OK, that’s nos so true!!!

    However, I wouldn’t say no to this, I love that combination of five spices, lemongrass and all that…
    And it’s funny the idea of using Coca-Cola. I’ve also seen some recipes for meat using it, and I have to try sometime!! But I’m somewhat reluctant, I don’t even like Coke as a drink!!

    Cute cute photos, love it!!
    Have a nice weekend, Thanh!!!!

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 8 February 2014

      Hi Paula,
      I’m not a big fan of Coca-Cola either. I used to drink it a lot when I was younger, but then I stopped and now it tastes a bit funny when I drink it. Although, I do like to have a glass of Coca-Cola when I eat pizza … 😉

      I’ve tried Nigella Lawson’s Ham in Coca-Cola which was really delicious. Although, that recipe uses A LOT of Coca-Cola, like a whole 2 lt bottle! This stew only needs about 3/4 cup so it’s not so bad.

      Wishing you a great weekend also!

      Reply
    • Jana 8 February 2014

      I used cold coca-cola only in case our (then small) daughter had a stomach problems. Few spoons of cold coca-cola and few sticks of salted pretzels were good to calm the stomach down as our doctor said. It always helped.

      Reply
      • eat, little bird 9 February 2014

        My mum used to prescribe lemonade or Sprite whenever I had stomach problems as a child! I suppose there is something in the fizzy bubbles which helps. My son had a bout of bronchitis a few months ago and was generally feeling quite poorly. The paediatrician recommended that I give him salty food, such as pretzels, as the body apparently loses some salt when sick and this needs to be replenished. So Coca-Cola and pretzels are not so bad after all 😉

        Reply
  6. Rushi 11 February 2014

    Beautiful pics Thanh. I’ve only used coca cola once in cooking, well rather baking thanks to Nigella. I made her coca cola cake a while back. My hubby would be the happiest if I made him this stew, I tend to avoid beef so to hubby this would be one of those rare treats 🙂

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 11 February 2014

      Ooh I haven’t tried Nigella’s Coca-Cola cake yet … that would be an interesting one! I guess one shouldn’t be too surprised about cooking with Coca-Cola; wine, beer and other beverages are commonly used in cooking too.

      Reply
  7. The Food Sage 11 February 2014

    This looks like such a beautiful clean dish – can’t wait to try it. Excellent food styling, too. Great work.

    Reply
  8. Madeleine 6 April 2018

    I made this recipe today using the pressure cooker and it was absolutely delicious! Can’t believe dinner was on the table so soon! The carrots had softened a lot but they were still intact – the kids absolutely loved it. Thank you for this recipe!

    Reply
  9. Julia 13 April 2018

    I will try to cook it.I really liked your recipe. Thank you

    Reply
  10. Tazmeen NATHOO 21 November 2018

    Used candied ginger instead of garlic & lemon zest in place of lemon grass. Didnt bother with the meat “browning” – a total waste of time for two reasons: 1. splatters everywhere ruining cooker, walls, floors etc. 2. meat doesnt brown just boils because of liquid content from marinade (I have a gas stove so regulating heat to high is not a problem). I also coated the meat in flour to aid in thickening the sauce speeding overall cooking time. Added potatoes to replace baguette or noodles. Used a good dash of soy sauce in the marinade so didnt need much salt, also takes the edge off coca-cola, carrot, candied ginger sweetness

    Reply