Bo Kho or Vietnamese Beef Stew is one of the most comforting dishes out there. It is served during celebrations and at everyday meals. This traditional take on bo kho does take some time to make and has a lot of ingredients, but the results are well worth it in the end.
Chinese New Year was a big day in my family, more so than Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every year, my family and I would gather with friends and family, eat tons of food, and I would receive some lucky money in red envelopes. To be honest, getting money was my favorite part. I would say “gung hay fat choy” which means “Happy New Year” in Chinese and adults would give me red envelopes. It was a fun little game I loved to play. Other than the red envelopes, the food is what I remembered the most from these gatherings. Since my family is from a Chinese Vietnamese background, we always had a mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Some common dishes we would have are banh beo, egg rolls, fried rice, and this dish bo kho or Vietnamese beef stew.
What is Bo Kho?
Bo Kho is the Vietnamese version of beef stew and comes from Southern Vietnam. Kho is the Vietnamese word for braise because you essentially braise the beef in the aromatic. Some examples of kho dishes are ca kho to, ca hoi kho, thit kho, and ga kho. It has all the ingredients of American beef stew plus daikon, lemongrass, some Asian spices, and fish sauce. It is also more watery than American beef stew. That’s why it is normally eaten with noodles, bread or rice, something that can absorb all that good soup.
Every family has their own recipe for this dish. When I first thought about making this for myself, I went to my mom to ask her for her recipe. Her recipe involved using a beef stew mix for the base and adding beef, veggies, red wine, and tomato sauce. When she told me that, it seemed a little too simple and just not right. I felt like it was deja vu to my pho recipe where she skipped a few steps. So I did some research online, combined that with what she said, and came up with my own bo kho recipe.
How does Bo Kho get its red color?
Traditionally, this dish gets its red color from tomato paste, annatto oil, and sometimes paprika. I personally don’t care to make it super red, so I just add tomato paste to this dish for both tartness and color. It’s one less ingredient to get, and it doesn’t affect how good this soup tastes. If you want a soup that is more red in color, add more tomato paste to the soup. It improves the flavor and color.
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
- Beef (beef shank and beef chuck) – I like to use this combination because they have a good amount of fat which adds to the richness in the broth. You can use any cut of beef for bo kho but I would recommend using something with a good amount of fat and at least some type of beef bone to get that rich broth. Good options are beef shank, beef chuck, and oxtail.
- Garlic & Ginger – Both help temper down the unappetizing flavors of beef.
- Fish sauce – Adds umami flavor to the both. I like using Three Crabs fish sauce but Red Boat fish sauce has gained popularity in the recent years and is more accessible. Any brand of fish sauce should work.
- Seasonings (five spice powder and cinnamon) – Adds more umami flavor to the beef. Vietnamese cinnamon is the best option to use here but regular cinnamon powder should work just fine.
- Vegetable oil – Prevents the beef from sticking when you sear the beef and helps it get its nice brown color.
- Onion – Adds sweetness to the broth. I would recommend using a sweet yellow onion because it adds the best flavor to the broth. A good substitute is a white onion.
- Red wine – This is a non-traditional ingredient, but I like how it adds a slight sweet and fruity flavor to the both. Any kind of red wine should work. I personally like to use a Cabernet or pinot noir.
- Lemongrass, carrots, daikon – Adds sweetness and a slight sourness to the broth which gives it balance. If you can’t find daikon, you can leave it out of the recipe. The other two ingredients are essential.
- Star anise, Bay leaf and tomato paste
- Beef broth – Adds flavor to the broth. Substitute with an equal amount of chicken broth or 1 tablespoon of beef bouillon.
- Water – A good substitute for water that many traditional Vietnamese use is coconut water. I personally don’t like using it because boiling coconut water makes it sweet, and I like my soup a bit more savory.
- Mint (optional) – Adds freshness to the broth. This is an optional topping but I love using it.
- Lime (optional) – Provides brightness to the broth before consuming.
- Potatoes (optional) – I did not include potatoes in this recipe, but you can add them if you want!I recommend yukon gold potatoes because they hold their shape well in soup.
How to make bo kho
This is such an easy recipe! I first start off with marinating the beef in garlic, ginger, five spice, fish sauce, vegetable oil, and cinnamon for 30 minutes. I cut all the beef into 1 inch x 1 inch x 1 inch pieces. For the beef shank, I cut the meat off the bone, cubed it, and added it all, bone included, to the marinade. The cinnamon is a touch from my mom. When I was home for Thanksgiving, she made some pork belly marinated in fish sauce, lemongrass, and cinnamon sugar. It was THE BEST thing I’ve ever had, and since then, I’ve vowed to use it in more meat recipes.
After marinating the beef, I combined the rest of the ginger and garlic to a soup pot with the onion. After cooking for a minute or so, I add in the marinated beef to brown. I then deglaze the pot with red wine. Red wine is typically not used in Bo Kho, but it just makes it tastes so good! After the wine, add in the rest of the ingredients aside from the mint and lime and bring the soup to a boil. Simmer the soup for 1 hour until your beef is tender and your soup is done!
Bo Kho Video
Tips on how to make the perfect bo kho
Use beef with a good amount of fat
I use a combination of beef shank and beef chuck because of the fat content. That’s how you get a rich broth. I also like to use beef shank with the bone in because bones make for the best broths. Other cuts you can use are brisket and oxtail. Oxtail would make the most luxurious soup.
Use a yellow onion
I use yellow onions in all of my broths because they provide the sweetness I am looking for. Other onions don’t work as well for Vietnamese broths.
Get a nice sear on the beef
Getting a nice sear on the beef adds color and flavor to the broth and beef.
Scoop away impurities for a clear broth
The biggest tip I can give for a good broth is to scoop away impurities. Impurities are the nasty bits of the meat the float to the top when you boil it. They appear like foamy bubbles at the top of the soup. I take a ladle and skim them off the surface. See video for reference!
Make bo kho a day ahead of time
Soups need time to soak up all that good flavor, so they are usually better the next day. For the best results, make the soup a day ahead of time and let the flavors combine over night.
What can you serve bo kho with?
I usually like to enjoy bo kho with a baguette, but you can eat it with rice noodles or rice. The last time I made this I served it with rice.
How do you store bo kho?
Bo Kho can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. I usually like to put bo kho into freezer safe bags when storing in the freezer.
Did you make this dish?
If you made this dish, I would love to see!
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Traditional Bo Kho Recipe (Vietnamese Beef Stew)
- Marinate the beef chuck and beef shank for 30 minutes with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 2-inch piece of ginger (sliced thinly), fish sauce, five spice, cinnamon, and vegetable oil. Make sure to include the bone from the beef shank in the marinade. Set aside.
- In a large soup pot, saute onions, the rest of the ginger, and the rest of the garlic for 1 minute. Next, add the marinated beef and cook for 2-3 minutes until all sides are seared. Deglaze the pot with red wine and cook until the alcohol is burned out. You shouldn't be able to smell the alcohol anymore once it has burned out.
- Add in the lemongrass, carrots, daikon, bay leaf, salt, tomato paste, beef broth, and water. Bring the soup to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1-1.5 hours until beef is tender. Check on the soup every half hour and scoop away any impurities that you see.
- After the broth has finished simmering, taste the soup for seasoning. If it tastes bland, add more salt or fish sauce until the soup tastes just right.
- Ladle soup into a bowl. Top with mint and lime juice to finish it off. Eat with bread, rice, or rice noodles.
- Use beef with a good amount of fat. I use a combination of beef shank and beef chuck because of the fat content. That’s how you get a rich broth. I also like to use beef shank with the bone in because bones make for the best broths.
- Beef broth can be substituted with 1 tablespoon of beef bouillon or chicken broth.
- Water can be substituted with more beef broth, chicken broth, or coconut water.
- Mint can be substituted with Thai basil.
- Lime can be substituted with lemon.
- Make bo kho a day ahead of time. Soups need time to soak up all that good flavor, so they are usually better the next day. For the best results, make the soup a day ahead of time and let the flavors combine over night.
- What can you serve bo kho with? I usually like to enjoy this soup with a baguette, but you can eat it with noodles or rice. The last time I made this I served it with rice.