Bo kho is an aromatic Vietnamese beef stew made by searing large chunks of beef, then slow cooked in a broth flavoured with lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon, coconut water and Oriental beef spices. Ground annatto, paprika and tomato paste are added to give this dish its classic red tinge, and carrots and onion are added towards the end for extra colour, texture and flavour.
This stew is a versatile dish that can be eaten a number of different ways. Traditionally it is eaten for breakfast alongside warm, crusty Vietnamese baguettes. You can really eat bo kho any time though, and it also transforms easily into a noodle soup or rice dish, making it great for lunch or dinner. Bo kho can also be made in advance and stored in the freezer, so you can quickly whip up a hearty breakfast for overnight guests, or a hot comforting meal on days where you don’t have time to cook.
What Goes In Bo Kho
- Beef – chuck steak, or any other tougher cut of beef with a bit of fat on it.
- Coconut water – either from a fresh coconut or a carton. Can be substituted with plain water and a teaspoon of white sugar.
- Lemongrass – this recipe uses three stalks, which are bashed to release their flavour. When developing this recipe we were a little horrified to see lemongrass going for $3 a stalk at mainstream supermarkets (so $9 total for this recipe). You can get them much cheaper at Asian groceries – they are priced per kg and we were able to get three for $2.30 total.
- Vegetables – ginger, garlic, carrot and onion. Other root vegetables, like potato or daikon, can also be added.
Spices, Sauces and Thickener
- Bo kho spices (Oriental beef spices) – available from Asian groceries – see picture below. Made of paprika, fennel, onion, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Note this is different to bo kho seasoning (stewed beef seasoning). Bo kho seasoning contains additional ingredients like sugar, salt, refined beef fat, MSG, annatto seed powder, chili and tomato paste. If you are using bo kho seasoning you definitely need to adjust the recipe to reduce the salt content, and should also consider adjusting the sugar, annatto, chili and tomato paste content too.
- Red colouring agents – tomato paste, paprika and ground annatto. Bo kho should have a red tinge to it. These ingredients add redness as well as additional flavour. Ground annatto can be purchased from mainstream or Asian groceries – see picture below. Omit the ground annatto if you can’t find it.
- Spices – cinnamon stick and star anise. Do not substitute the cinnamon stick for ground cinnamon, if you don’t have it just omit.
- Seasoning/flavouring – light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper.
- Thickener (optional) – cornstarch and water. We recommend thickening the sauce if serving with rice. A thickener is not recommended if serving with bread or noodles.
Here’s a photo of the bo kho spices and ground annatto we use. These can be purchased from Asian groceries:
How to Make Bo Kho (Summary)
- Marinate the meat.
- Brown the meat.
- Add the meat, fresh, dry and sauce ingredients into a pot and cook.
- Towards the end of the cooking time add the carrots and onion and cook until everything is done.
Marinating the meat
For best results marinate the meat – at least 20 minutes, preferably overnight.
If You’re Not Going to Marinate the Meat…
If you’ve forgotten/don’t have time/can’t be bothered, then adjust the recipe depending on whether you still plan on browning the meat:
- Still browning the meat – prepare the marinade, add the beef and coat, then go straight to browning the meat.
- Not browning the meat – add the marinade ingredients directly into the broth. See also section below “If You’re Not Going to Brown The Meat”.
Browning the Meat
For best results brown the meat, it will give your bo kho extra texture and flavour.
If you are short on time though, and are really after a throw-everything-in-a-pot type dish then you can skip this step. The meat will still be cooked through, and you will still have a delicious stew.
If you are not going to brown the meat we strongly recommend you wash the beef to get rid of any impurities, otherwise you end up with lots of floaty/grainy bits in your stew. Note if you are going to wash the beef you’ll need to skip marinating – if that’s the case add the marinade ingredients directly into the stew.
To wash the beef:
- Cut the beef into large chunks.
- Put in a heatproof bowl.
- Pour over boiling water.
- Move the meat around to release any impurities.
- Drain, then repeat one more time with a fresh batch of boiling water.
Cooking Bo Kho
Once you’ve browned the beef you can prepare the other ingredients then cook the stew on either the stovetop or in an instant pot/pressure cooker.
Preparing the Ingredients
Prepare and measure the other ingredients and add everything except the carrots and onion to the pot.
Some notes on prepping the fresh ingredients:
- Lemongrass – remove the outer most layers and then cut into three sections. Get the back or the handle of the knife to bash the lemongrass.
- Carrots – avoid cutting the carrots too small since they will break up more easily. Also, try to keep the size of the pieces as uniform as possible.
- Ginger – the ginger is added for flavouring rather than for eating. There’s no need to peel, but do give the ginger a rinse. Cut into three large pieces, and remember to fish out at the end.
Cooking Times and Equipment – Stovetop vs Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker
If cooking on the stovetop, use a dutch oven or large saucepan with lid. Add all the ingredients into you Dutch oven and heat to a light boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour and 10 minutes, then add the carrots and onion and cook for a further 20 minutes.
If using an instant pot/pressure cooker, the stew will need 25 minutes cooking time on meat / stew setting. Release the pressure, then add the carrots and onion and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Taste Testing Bo Kho
Taste test the bo kho before serving so you can make any necessary adjustments:
- Seasoning too strong – add coconut water or plain water.
- Not sweet enough – add coconut water or sugar.
- Not salty enough – add salt or soy sauce.
- Needs more depth of flavour – add beef stock powder.
- Needs a stronger lemongrass flavour – add lemongrass paste.
How to Serve Bo Kho
Serve bo kho with:
- Bread – preferably Vietnamese baguettes, otherwise any crusty bread will do. Ladle the bo kho into bowls with lots of sauce, then warm the bread up in an oven and use it to mop up everything up. If serving with bread we do not recommend thickening the sauce.
- Noodles – preferably bun bo hue vermicelli noodles, otherwise any other rice noodle. Put the noodles in a bowl, then ladle over lots of bo kho so you have a noodle soup. If serving with noodles we do not recommend thickening the sauce.
- Rice – preferably white steamed rice. Go a bit easier with the sauce, you want a bit of it to soak through but don’t go drowning the rice. If serving with rice we recommend thickening the sauce.
Whichever method, garnish with roughly chopped fresh coriander.
Can You Freeze Bo Kho?
The beef and the sauce hold up really well in the freezer, and taste pretty much the same once defrosted. The texture in the carrot and onion will be affected, a bit more squidgy and watery, but definitely still edible.
If you have more leftovers than you can finish then definitely go ahead and freeze the whole lot – it’s too good to go to waste!
If however you’re making this in advance specifically to store in your freezer, we recommend following the recipe right up to the step before adding the carrots and onion. Freeze at that point, then on the day you’re planning on eating it, defrost, bring to the boil over the stovetop, then add the carrots and onions and simmer on the stovetop for 20 minutes (or cook at high pressure for 5 minutes in the instant pot/pressure cooker).
You’ll Also Love…
- Thit Kho (Vietnamese Braised Caramelised Pork)
- Cheap and Easy Chinese Soy Sauce Chicken
- Easy Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)
- Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua)
- Vietnamese Lemongrass Pork Chops in Air Fryer
We hope you enjoyed the post and thank you for all your support.
Scruff & Steph
Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)
- 1 kg chuck steak excess fat trimmed, cut into large chunks
- 1 tsp bo kho spice mix
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 750 ml coconut water
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and minced
- 3 lemongrass stalks cut into 3-inch lengths then bruised
- 10 gm ginger (2 cm / 0.8 in), unpeeled, cut into three pieces
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp bo kho seasoning
- 2 tsp ground annatto
- 1 tsp paprika
- ground black pepper to your taste
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 large carrots peeled, quartered widthways diagonally, larger pieces halved again if necessary.
- 1 onion cut into thick wedges (1/8ths)
Thickener (optional – recommended if serving with rice, not recommended if serving with bread or noodles)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp water
- coriander roughly chopped
- Vietnamese baguettes or crusty dinner rolls, rice, or rice noodles
- Marinade (Note 1) – combine marinade ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the beef, mix around to evenly coat in sauce. Cover and leave in fridge to marinate, preferably overnight or for at least 20 minutes.
- Brown the meat (Note 2) – heat oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the meat in batches and sear until browned, about 2.5 – 3 minutes each side. Do not overcrowd the pan, and set each batch aside once done.
- Broth – put the beef and all broth ingredients into your dutch oven/stock pot/instant pot/pressure cooker. Stovetop – bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, on low heat for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Instant pot/pressure cooker – pressure cook at high pressure for 25 minutes.
- Vegetables – Stovetop – add carrots and onions. Turn heat to high, return to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook with lid on for 20 minutes. Instant pot/pressure cooker – release pressure. Add carrots and onions, then cook on high pressure for 5 minutes.
- Check – check the carrots and meat for doneness, cooking further if required. Check seasoning, adjust if required.
- Thicken (optional – Note 3) – combine the cornstarch with the water in a small bowl, stirring until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high (stovetop)/put on sautee function (instant pot/pressure cooker) and stir until the liquid bubbles and thickens.
- Garnish and serve – garnish with fresh coriander, and serve with either crusty bread (preferably Vietnamese baguettes), steamed rice or rice noodles (preferably bun bo noodles).
- Marinating is recommended, however if you want to skip this step then either coat the meat in the marinade and go straight to browning, or add the marinade ingredients directly into the broth.
- Browning the beef is recommended, however if you want to skip this step put the beef into a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water then drain and repeat. This is to wash away any impurities so you don’t have grainy/gunky bits in your stew.
- We recommend thickening if serving bo kho with rice. We do not recommend thickening if serving bo kho with noodles/bread.