Bo Kho (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Stew)

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Vietnamese is, hands-down, one of my favorite cuisines. I love how most dishes combine salty, sweet, sour, and umami. Plus, my favorite items have contrasting temperatures and textures which makes it feel like I’m hosting a party in my mouth.

Unfortunately, I rarely eat Vietnamese food nowadays because there’s sugar in most dishes, it’s grain-heavy (e.g. pho, banh mi, bun, etc.), and almost all fish sauces contain sugar and/or hydrolyzed wheat protein. However, all that’s gonna change now that I’ve gotten my hands on a bottle of Red Boat Fish Sauce.

For the past week, I’ve been poring over my neglected copy of Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, looking for yummy recipes to Paleo-ize. Andrea’s book is phenomenal as are her blogs –- she’s an expert in all matters pertaining to Vietnamese cuisine and Asian dumplings. The first recipe I tackled was Bò Kho (beef stewed with tomato, star anise, and lemongrass) and, boy, was it yummy!

My recipe deviates from Andrea’s in some key ways: I made a number of key ingredient substitutions, and placed the stew in the oven to finish braising (as opposed to cooking it on the stovetop). I love braising stews in the oven ‘cause the temperature stays constant. You don’t have to babysit them!

Here’s what I gathered to feed 6-8 people:

  • 2½ pounds grass fed beef brisket, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch chunks
  • 1 large stalk lemongrass, trimmed of loose leaves, cut into 3-inch lengths, and bruised with a heavy object (e.g. ramekin, broad side of kitchen knife, you get the idea)
  • 3 tablespoons Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons Madras curry powder
  • 2½ tablespoons peeled and microplaned fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons ghee 
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Here’s how I made it:

I preheated the oven to 300°F and gathered and prepped my ingredients.

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I tossed the beef, lemongrass, fish sauce, curry powder, ginger, applesauce, and bay leaf into a large bowl…

…and mixed everything well.

I let the meat marinate for about 30 minutes.

I heated the ghee in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and seared the beef in batches until they were nice and browned all over. (Yes, I will try this soon with the no-sear method to see how it turns out).

I placed the seared beef on a new plate…

…and reserved the lemon grass and bay leaf from the marinade.

I lowered the heat to medium-low and tossed in the onions and cooked them until they were softened.

Then, I tossed in the tomatoes and salt to taste and stirred to combine. I put on the lid and simmered the sauce for 12-14 minutes until a paste formed.

Once the paste formed, I added in the beef, lemongrass, bay leaf, and star anise.

I raised the heat to medium and stirred everything on and off for 5 minutes.

 Next, I added the water and the carrots to the pot, raised the heat to high, and brought the stew up to a boil. 

I covered the Dutch oven with the lid and placed it in the oven for about 2½ hours or until the brisket was really tender.

At this point, I defatted the stew and transferred it to a storage container to chill in the fridge for a couple days.

When I reheated the stew, I dumped it in a pot and brought it back up to a simmer. I tasted for seasoning and then plated the stew after removing the lemon grass, bay leaf, and star anise.

I topped the stew with some freshly chopped cilantro.

Voila!

Man, this was a delicious stew – all thanks to Red Boat fish sauce and Andrea Nguyen!