What is Bo Kho?
I've been living and working in Vietnam for a little over 2 years, and there's a few dishes that I've come to appreciate.
Like Hanoi, Danang City has a cold, wet, windy and miserable winter season.
Our winter blows in off the raging ocean, direct from the typhoon-stricken Philippines. One of the pleasures of those winter mornings is a steaming bowl of breakfast. This can be a rice noodle soup like Pho or Bun Bo, or the other, much guiltier pleasure….a bowlful of Bo Kho and a fresh baguette
Bo kho is a dish of tender, slowly-stewed chunks of beef in rich cinnamon gravy with a hint of curry, juicy chunks of carrot and freshly picked sweet basil.
It drives away the demons of cold and darkness and dissipates despair. It's a steaming bowl of hope.
Bo Kho is a Western stew, a Chinese braise and a Vietnamese curry all rolled into one.
It's typically Vietnamese – a fusion of influences coming together to form a unique dish.
Bo kho is rich and aromatic, never spicy or pungent.
It has balance, class and sophistication, but also the common touch.
Bo Kho isn't hard to make, as long as you follow the 5 essential stewing basics These apply to almost all stews and braises. I've copied them below for your convenience.
How to eat Bo Kho
The Vietnamese take a contrary position to the Thais when serving curry and wet dishes.
The Thais serve almost everything with steamed rice, especially curries and stews.
The Vietnamese accompany curries & stews with baguette bread instead.
You'd get strange looks if you served rice.
However with leftovers, both countries agree that curry is best served at lunch, over fresh fermented rice vermicelli noodles. These are called 'khanom jeen' in Thai or 'bun' in Vietnamese.
To pronounce 'bun', say it like a fat Englishman screaming "Boon in Ooven" referring to a bread roll.
I've added a couple of other ideas for serving Bo Kho at the end of this recipe.
5 essential stewing tips
- Use a stewing cut – a tougher, cheaper more flavoursome cut like shin, blade, brisket or chuck. Even oxtail would be nice. Expensive cuts dry out when used for stewing, so avoid all the premium steak cuts.
- Don't cut out the tough connective tissue or sinew. This is what breaks down to make the meat tender, juicy and delicious.
- Sear the beef to brown the proteins in the meat and give a delicious flavour. This is called a Maillard Reaction
- Cover totally with liquid and bring to boil then reduce to a very gentle simmer. DO NOT BOIL.
- Stew at very low temperature for a long period until the connective tissue breaks down. 2-4 hours with beef, sometimes longer depending on the cut
Bo Kho recipe ingredients
650g Beef Shin, Brisket or Chuck
35g Shallots, red, peeled
35g Garlic, peeled
7g Bo Kho Seasoning spices Anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger (OR five spice and curry powder)
150ml Annatto oil (plain oil simmered with annatto seed / achiote for a deep orange/red colour)
150g Beef Tendon
150g Onion, brown, diced
120g Tomato, ripe
10g Cinnamon sticks
3ea Star Anise
100g Lemongrass sticks
15g Ginger root
1350 Water, warm/room temp
3g Salt (to taste)
200g Carrots, peeled & chopped chunky
Potato starch, corn starch or tapioca flour (to thicken)
Bo Kho recipe method
- Dice stewing beef and season with crushed garlic, shallot, bo kho spices, salt. Leave 4 hours or more.
- Sear the beef in small batches until nicely browned, using red coloured annatto oil. Put each batch into stewing pot when done
- Add the onion, tomato and tendon to the stewing pot, and also the lemongrass, ginger, star anise and cinnamon.
- Cover with water, bring to a gentle simmer, stew very slowly for 3-4 hours.
- Check tenderness. When almost ready (40 minutes to 1 hour out), add the carrots and adjust the seasoning.
- When carrots are done, check seasoning again and adjust if needed
- Mix potato starch or corn starch with a little water, and stir into the simmering stew to thicken.
- To serve, garnish with fresh sweet basil leaves and eat with a crusty, light, fresh baguette.
Alternative ways to serve Bo Kho.
- Bo Kho is delicious ladled over rice noodles and served like a soup for lunch – it's better left unthickened for this.
- Bo Kho makes an AMAZING meat pie filling. We make bo kho cinnamon beef pies at the resort and so many people say it's the best pie they've ever tasted. Even the Aussies
- Great filling for curry puffs, and for uneducated foreign heathen like me, I adore it served with mashed potato.
So there you are – the traditional method and a couple of offbeat uses also.
Quite simply, Bo Kho rocks! If you know this dish, or if you think I've missed anything, please add your experiences, comments and opinions below.
Thanks for stopping by, and please share if you found this page useful.