Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew with Lemongrass) is hearty, flavorful and fragrant. You can serve this classic dish of Saigon with banh mi (baguette) or noodles. My authentic recipe will guide you how to cook and enjoy it just like in Saigon.
What is Bò Kho
Bò kho is an aromatic Vietnamese beef stew dish in which chunks of well-marbled beef are seared and then gently braised with lemongrass. The authentic version of this dish, which I’m sharing today, also contains carrots but no potatoes. The stew can be eaten with banh mi or noodles.
You may come across different beef stew dishes in Vietnam. This one, together with this beef stew with green peppercorns, is popular in Saigon. Fun fact: if you ask a Northerner about bo kho, many of them (including me in the past) will think of an entirely different dish :).
I first knew about this dish when we moved to Saigon a few years ago. Today I’m sharing with you an authentic bo kho recipe, which was given to me straight from my Saigonese chef friend.
Here are the main ingredients for bo kho:
🥩 Beef: my favorite cut for this dish is boneless beef shank which contains a lot of connective tissues. Once braised, it will become so tender and provide rich beef flavor. If you can’t find it, you may use beef chuck.
The beef will be cubed and tossed with five spice powder, turmeric powder, non-spicy chili powder such as paprika, and ground coriander seed.
🧄 Aromatics and spices: lemongrass, garlic, shallots, star anise, and bay leaf. They will give the stew an irresistible aroma.
🥕 Other ingredients: carrots, soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, rock sugar, and pepper. You will find the list of accompaniments to serve with this dish in the How to Serve section.
If you want this lemongrass beef stew to have a reddish color like in my photo, you will also need some annatto seeds to make annatto seed oil. It is optional and purely for aesthetic appeal with no impact on the flavor.
How to Make Authentic Bo Kho
It is pretty straightforward and easy to make this Vietnamese beef stew. I highly recommend using a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Staub cocotte (which I’m using here) or an enameled Dutch oven.
First, make some annatto seed oil if you decide to use it. Simply pour hot oil over the seeds, then discard the seeds and let the oil cool. You can now cut the beef into large chunks and toss with the ground spices, salt, pepper and some of the red oil.
Next, sauté the aromatics until fragrant. Then add the beef and continue to cook to brown the exterior of the meat.
Once the outside of the meat is no longer pink, add seasonings and water. You can also replace half of the water with coconut juice or beef stock for deeper flavors.
Let the water come to a boil and skim off the foam. Then cover the pot and simmer gently.
When the meat is almost tender to your liking, it’s time to add carrots. Continue to simmer until both the beef and carrots are tender. Don’t forget to taste and adjust seasonings.
The final step will be thickening the stew with some cornstarch slurry. Bo kho usually isn’t a thick stew, so please don’t overdo with the slurry.
Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot) Method for Bo Kho
I personally think the stovetop method yields a tastier result than the pressure cooker method but it does take longer to cook. If you want to make this bo kho recipe with your pressure cooker/Instant Pot, I recommend marinating the beef cubes for about 2 hours before cooking.
You can do all the sautéing steps in the pressure cooker and then cook with High pressure for about 30 minutes. After that, add carrots and simmer until everything is tender. Also thicken the stew with some cornstarch slurry.
How to Serve
There are two common ways to serve Vietnamese lemongrass beef stew in Saigon:
- with bread: you can use banh mi or regular baguettes. The dish will then be called bánh mì bò kho.
- with noodles: you can use Vietnamese rice noodles (such as phở or hủ tíu), or egg noodles. Depending on which types of noodles are used, we will call the dish mì bò kho or hủ tíu bò kho.
Regardless of whether you serve the dish with bread or noodles, I recommend having these accompaniments:
- fresh herbs: Thai basil (húng quế), sawtooth leaves (ngò gai), and chopped scallion and cilantro.
- thinly sliced yellow onions and several slices of bird’s eye chili.
And that’s everything you need to know to make this delicious Vietnamese beef stew. I think you will find it very soul-satisfying, hearty with a wonderful aroma.
More beef recipes you may want to try:
⭐️ I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating if you have tried it. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)
For the Beef
- 1 teaspoon annatto seeds (optional, see Notes for more information)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 28 oz beef shank or beef chuck (or your favorite cuts for stewing)
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon non-spicy chili powder, such as paprika powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 large lemongrass stalks, bruised
- 0.7 oz shallots
- 0.5 oz garlic, lightly smacked
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 star anises, whole pods
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 1/2 teaspoons rock sugar, broken into small pieces
- 10.5 oz carrots, peeled and roll cut into large chunks (about 2 large carrots)
- 5 cups plus 2 1/2 tablespoons water, divided
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- thinly sliced yellow onions
- chopped scallions
- chopped cilantro
- banh mi (baguettes) or rice noodles, egg noodles
- Thai basil
- sawtooth leaves
- bird's eye chili (optional)
- lime wedges (optional)
Make the Beef Stew
- If using annatto seeds, place them in a small heatproof bowl. Heat the oil until hot and then pour it over the seeds. The oil will turn to a reddish color. Let it cool and discard the seeds.
- Slice beef into large chunks, about 1½ inch thick and 2 inch wide. Place beef cubes in a large mixing bowl, then toss with the five spice powder, turmeric powder, ground coriander, paprika powder, salt, and pepper. Drizzle 1½ tablespoons of the annatto seed oil over the meat and mix well. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add the remaining ½ tablespoon annatto seed oil. Add bruised lemongrass stalks, shallots, garlic, star anises and bay leaves. Stir and sauté briefly until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.
- Slightly increase the heat and add beef to the pot. Continue to stir and cook until the exterior of the meat is browned. This step may take 3-4 minutes.
- Add soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Continue to stir and cook the beef for another minute.
- Add 5 cups (1.2l) water to the pot and bring it to a rapid simmer. Skim off excess foam, and then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook for about 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes.
- Check if the beef is almost tender to your liking. Then add carrots and simmer for 10-15 minutes until both the meat and carrots are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Discard all the lemongrass, star anises, bay leaves, garlic and shallots.
- Dissolve cornstarch into 2½ tablespoons water and then slowly pour it into the pot while stirring to thicken the stew. This is not a thick stew so don't overdo with the slurry.
Serve the Beef Stew
- To serve with bread: divide the beef stew into serving bowls. Top with some thin onion slices and sprinkle with chopped scallion and cilantro. Serve with banh mi (or regular baguettes), Thai basil, sawtooth leaves, bird's eye chili and lime wedges on the side.
- To serve with noodles: cook rice noodles or egg noodles according to package instructions. Place the noodles in serving bowls, and top with some thin onion slices and sprinkle with chopped scallion and cilantro. Then ladle the beef stew into the bowls. Serve with Thai basil, sawtooth leaves, bird's eye chili and lime wedges on the side.
I am making this tonight and also sharing with friends 🙂 It is going to be cold and rainy and lemongrass stew sounds warming and perfect. Thank you for sharing!