Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

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 in black cast iron pot

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.

vietnamese beef stew bo kho with fresh herbs and baguette

Bo Kho

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.

vietnamese beef stew bo kho with fresh herbs

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)

Step 1

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.

meat in marinade for vietnamese beef stew

Step 2

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.

braising beef in cast iron pot

Step 3

Sauté the onions and garlic in the same pan until they have softened.

sauteéd onions and garlic in cast iron pot

Step 4

Add the tomato paste or canned tomatoes, together with the stock, salt, star anise, cloves, and lemongrass.

Tomato paste is more traditional, but I once ran out of tomato paste and found that canned tomatoes was a great substitute.

Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.

sauce for vietnamese beef stew in cast iron pot

Step 5

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.

vietnamese beef stew in cast iron pot

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.

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.

vietnamese beef stew bo kho in black pot on marble table with baguette

More Vietnamese Recipes

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

Vietnamese Caramel Chicken (Ga Kho)

Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)

Vietnamese Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

Print

Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho)

4.9 from 9 reviews

  • Marinating Time: 2-3 hours
  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • 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.

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 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)

To serve

  • Thai basil, torn
  • coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
  • red chillies, finely chopped
  • crusty bread

Instructions

Instructions for stove top

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade.
  2. Cut the beef brisket or chuck steak into large pieces, about 5 x 10 cm / 2 x 4 inches.
  3. Place the beef into the marinade and make sure all of the pieces are coated.
  4. Cover the bowl with some cling film.
  5. Place the bowl in the fridge for the meat to marinate for at least 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight.
  6. Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen paper.
  7. Let the meat come to room temperature before cooking.
  8. 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.
  9. Set the browned beef aside in a bowl.
  10. In the same pan, cook the onions and garlic until they have softened.
  11. Add the tomato paste or canned tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.
  12. Add the stock, salt, star anise, cloves and lemongrass.
  13. Bring to the pan to the boil and return the meat to the pan, together with the carrots and daikon.
  14. Simmer gently on low heat with the lid half on, for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is tender.
  15. Remove the lid and skim off any excess fat.
  16. Continue simmering for about 10 minutes without the lid, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
  17. Taste for seasoning.

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). 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.
  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. Taste for seasoning.
  6. 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

  1. Follow the recipe as above until Step 7.
  2. Use the Sauté function for Steps 8 to 13.
  3. Use about 1.5 litres or 6 cups of stock. The liquid should not completely 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.
  7. 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.

Kitchen Notes

VARIATIONS
* 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.

CONVERSIONS
To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.

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

Did you make this recipe?

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Update

This recipe was first published on 6 February 2014. It has been updated with more comprehensive recipe notes.

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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
  11. Kim 30 August 2020

    I’m Vietnamese and I’ve never seen anyone use coke in their beef stew marinade.

    Reply
  12. anne 11 December 2020

    Unbelievably delicious. Was termed “the best soup I’ve ever had” by one eater. I have made this 3 times. Once with coca cola, once without in a slow cooker and once with ginger ale as had no cola. All three were amazing. Smashed and very thin sliced lemon grass was more flavorful than smashed and floating the stalk. Wading through the ads was worth it for this recipe. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 11 December 2020

      Hi Anne,
      Thank you for your feedback! I’m so glad you have enjoyed it many times now. Great to know that ginger ale also works!

      Reply
  13. Andy 22 March 2021

    I made this for dinner last night and it was just like how my mum made it! Such a great recipe!

    Reply
  14. Christine Wang 22 March 2021

    Such a delicious recipe! I’ve been wanting to try this beef stew for a long time but wasn’t sure about the Coca Cola in the recipe. But we had a party and someone left a bottle of Coke at our place and I thought I would give your recipe a try. It totally works! I used the Instant Pot and the meat was so tender and delicious. Now I regret waiting so long ha ha! I also make your chicken pho frequently.

    Reply
  15. Janice Lee 23 March 2021

    We once had this dish in a Vietnamese restaurant in Hong Kong and I’ve been to trying to recreate it ever since. I tried a recipe which used Coca Cola in the broth but it was too sweet. Then I tried your recipe on the weekend and it was exactly how I remembered this dish tasting! We just had leftovers and it tastes even more amazing the next day! Definitely need to serve with warm baguette. Thanks so much for your recipe.

    Reply
  16. Steve 24 March 2021

    Really nice recipe. I might add more spices next time like more star anise and five spice, but overall very delicious.

    Reply
  17. Karen 26 March 2021

    Hi there! I found your recipe on Pinterest and spent the whole day making it. The taste is delicious!

    Reply