You might be thinking ‘Hmmm, Vietnamese stew – a perfect way to build on the last recipe for banh mi sandwiches with another Vietnamese influenced recipe’, and I could probably lie and claim that was my intent, but for the sake of honesty, I’m going to say that this post was Amity’s fault.
Soon after posting the recipe for the banh mi, I received an email that read ‘Bo Kho – Vietnamese beef stew. You should so make this!!’, and that was pretty much all it took. (Amity note: which was actually due to John linking me this recipe and saying… “this is right up your alley”. Blame passed back to him, hah!)
With the idea now firmly stuck in my head and a bunch of leftover ingredients from the sandwiches sitting around needing to be used, I started looking up recipes to build off of. The idea of a thick, hearty beef stew was nothing new, but I had never heard of such a thing coming from SE Asian cooking so this was completely new to me.
When I think Vietnamese soup, I immediately think of Pho – a thin, super-flavorful broth in a bowl heaped full of noodles, random meat chunks, and other fragrant additives that is a wonderful dish for kicking a cold in the rear, not stew.
My first impression after finding a handful of recipes on the web was ‘ok, this is definitely not a common restaurant kind of recipe, but more of a family dinner thing’. Most of the recipes had comments about how the authors’ grandmother made this dish, or how it was a family favorite from way back, both of which made me think that this was going to be really good. If someone calls something ‘an old time family favorite’, the odds are that it is going to be an awesome meal and this one was no exception.
Looking over the ingredients from the recipes I found, there were many common items: Chinese Five Spice, star anise, Madras curry powder, lemongrass, bay leaves, and fish sauce were in pretty much every recipe and all of the above also happened to be in my kitchen, which was pretty handy. Most of the recipes called for cooking annatto seeds in oil to add flavor and color to the dish, but I had some powdered annatto in the pantry from my St. Patrick’s Day tacos, so there was another ingredient I didn’t need to shop for. A big hunk of ginger in the freezer was the final item on my ‘don’t have to buy it’ list, leaving only the meat to be purchased.
Stew meat was pretty much a no-brainer, and is fairly easy to locate in just about any market, but there was another common theme ingredient in most of the recipes that proved to be a bit of a challenge – beef oxtails. Oxtails are pretty much what the name says – slices of the tail of the cow, and they are typically braised or slow cooked in order to beak down the gelatin and tenderize the meat or used as a stock base. I was assuming that in this case, the use of the tails was for a little bit of both, and my local market always has oxtails in the ‘odd parts section’ of the meat department, so I was positive everything was set.
Boy was I wrong…
Did I mention that the market I shop at always has oxtails?
Well, as luck would have it, the one time I need the things there were none in stock. They had tons of marrow bones and every other cast-off part of a cow that you can imagine, but for the first time I can remember no oxtails.
Needing a fatty cut of meat with lots of connective tissue to add flavor and body to the stock, I dug around the meat display for a bit and finally settled on something that would work just fine – some meaty, chewy, beefy short ribs. Not quite what I wanted to use, but definitely close enough to get the job done.
With the meat in the cart and faint hunger pangs in my stomach, I checked out and headed for the kitchen…
Vietnamese-style Beef Stew
- 1 lb lean stew meat, cubed
- 1 lb beef short ribs (bone in)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 32 oz box unsalted beef stock, divided
- 1/2 of a medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon annatto powder
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- 1/2 inch piece of ginger
- 2 tsp Chinese 5 Spice seasoning
- 2 tsp Madras hot curry powder
- 1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 large carrots
- 2 large potatoes
- oil for browning meat
- Optional garnishes – sliced jalapenos, dried thai chiles, pepper vinegar, cilantro, lime slices
Step 1: Combine the flour, salt, cracked black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a bowl and stir to combine. Pour the mixture onto a plate and dredge the short ribs and stew meat in the flour until fully coated.
Step 2: In a deep pot or dutch oven, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot and place on high heat. Brown the short ribs and stew meat in small batches and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add oil as needed to brown all the meat.
Step 3: De-glaze the pot with 1 cup of the beef stock, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to remove as much of the stuck on flavor as possible. Add the star anise, bay leaves, garlic cloves, onion, and annatto powder to the liquid and return to a burner on medium heat.
Step 5: Cook the aromatics for about 5 minutes, adding more stock as needed. After 5 minutes of cooking, add the remaining stock, the browned beef, ginger, 5 spice seasoning, fish sauce, and curry powder to the pot. Add the can of tomatoes, and stir the mixture to combine.
Step 6: Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for at least 2 hours until the beef on the spare ribs can be shredded with a fork.
Step 7: Peel the carrots and potatoes, and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. Add the vegetables to the pot and simmer for an additional 30-45 minutes until they become fork tender.
Step 8: Remove the lemongrass stalks, bay leaves, and star anise from the pot and serve.
Yield: 8 hearty bowls
Nutrition / Serving:
315 calories, 28 carbs, 11g fat, 25g protein, 4g fiber, 8g sugar
- For a great meal, make this stew and the banh mi sandwiches together – use the leftover bread from the sandwiches to sop up the soup!
- Thai basil is also a great garnish for this dish, I just didn’t have any handy.
- This would also be a great slow cooker meal. I would still recommend browning the beef in a skillet/pot before adding it to the cooker.
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