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a bowl of Vietnamese beef stew (bo kho)
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Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)

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. Pressure cooker instructions are in the Notes section.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 15 mins
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Dish, Noodle and Soup
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Keyword: bo kho, Vietnamese beef stew
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 506kcal
Author: Sophie

Ingredients

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

Other Ingredients

  • 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

To Serve

  • 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)

Instructions

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.

Notes

If you want this beef stew to have a reddish color like in my photos, you will need to use annatto seeds to make annatto seed oil. You can buy the seeds at Asian grocery stores or on Amazon. It is optional and purely for aesthetic appeal with no impact on the flavor. 
You can use granulated sugar instead of rock sugar, but start with a smaller amount first to see how it tastes. Then add more sugar at the end if needed. The sweetness of rock sugar is more pleasant than granulated sugar.
I usually make bo kho with just plain water, but you can replace half of the water with coconut juice or beef stock for even more flavors. If too much liquid is evaporated by the end, you can add back a splash of water.
I highly recommend using a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Staub cocotte (which I'm using here) or an enameled Dutch oven to braise the beef. 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, below are my suggestions.
Pressure cooker/Instant Pot instructions: I recommend marinating the beef cubes for about 2 hours before cooking. Then you can do all the sautéing steps in the pressure cooker and 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.
The nutrition calculation does not include the nutrition of bread or noodles served with the beef stew.

Nutrition

Calories: 506kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 16g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 137mg | Sodium: 1214mg | Potassium: 1036mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 12593IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 99mg | Iron: 6mg