Bo kho is a delicious Vietnamese beef stew that can be made in one pot!
If you like a good pho, there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t love bo kho which can be made in a fraction of the time.
Bo kho is a delicicious Vietnamese beef stew is that just like bo pho is served over rice noodles.
Why make bo kho?
It may not have the fame that beef pho does but don’t let that stop you. Bo kho tastes amazing and can be whipped up in less than an hour.
If you’re like me, you love beef pho but let’s face it… it takes hours to make. So if your in the mood for an amazing beef noodle soup or stew, it’s time you gave bo kho a try!
Bo kho is a lot less fussy to make. I tested this recipe on my family and they loved it just as much as beef pho. This is the perfect one pot meal to make after work too. Once you get everything in the pot, you can sit back and relax until the beef is tender and the sauce delicious.
About this recipe…
Caroline and I first tried bo kho in Ho Chi Minh City. We stumbled upon a small restaurant called Bo Kho one morning while looking for something to eat.
Later, we learned that the best restaurants specialise in one dish and often name their restaurant after that dish.
We made friends with the owner over our week stay. It was great because the chef spoke really good english and I got to watch him prepare his bo kho early one morning. This is how he made it but on a much smaller scale.
How is bo kho prepared in Vietnamese restaurants?
As I mentioned above, I learned this recipe as it was made but the chef cooked his bo kho on a much grander scale. Over the five weeks we travelled from south to north Vietnam, we got to watch many popular soups and stocks be made.
All the ingredients you see in my bo kho recipe below were thrown into a huge pot. The pot had to be gigantic because he served his stew all day from the same pot.
Scaling this recipe up…
So if you’re planning a Vietnamese themed party and want to make bo kho or any other popular Vietnamese soup or stew, just remember that you can scale my recipe up and the measures don’t even need to be exact. As long as you have lots of tasty ingredients in your bo kho, it has to be good!
What exactly is bo kho?
Bo means beef and kho is a cooking method in Vietnam. Kho on its own is a dish where meat is cooked until tender, braising it until most of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a thick sauce.
Bo kho, however is nothing like that. This is much more like a hearty stew. Like many Vietnamese recipes, achiote oil is added to give it a deep red colour. I didn’t do that this time but surely will in future.
Achiote oil is really easy to make and it really does make the stew look and taste amazing.
How to make Achiote oil…
If you’re feeling adventurous, make this easy oil recipe. The achiote oil keeps for months and is an eye-catching and tasty addition to any bo kho.
Simply take a few tablespoons of achiote seeds and simmer them for about 20 minutes in a rapeseed (canola) oil. The oil will turn a bright orange and take on the flavour of the earthy achiote seeds.
Then just add a few tablespoons of the oil to your finished bo kho.
Where did bo kho originate?
This is actual a copy of a Chinese dish but the Vietnamese changed it slightly, adding their own local ingredients. You can now find it all over Vietnam.
So many recipes of South East Asia were inspired by the Chinese. This bo kho doesn’t taste like Chinese food at all though. It has a flavour that is all Vietnamese!
How is bo kho different to pho?
Although there are certainly similarities, there are also things that make this dish quite different.
It is usually oilier that pho, especially when achiote oil is added. It also has a delicious coconut flavour from the coconut water that the beef is simmering in and it is much more garlicky.
In addition, it’s spicier than pho.
Let’s talk spicing…
One thing we noticed all over Vietnam is that, for the most part, Vietnamese dishes like bo kho are not spicy. That wasn’t always the case but it was the norm.
Fresh, chopped chillies and chilli sauces were then served with the rather mild dishes to add at the table to your own preference.
Although bo kho is considered one of the spicy ones, it really isn’t spicy compared to other cuisines such as Thai, Indian and Mexican.
Step by step photos…
What makes bo kho a stew rather than a soup?
Bo kho calls for larger chunks of vegetables. That’s about it and in my opinion, it could just as easily be called a soup.
This hearty meal is usually served with rice noodles. You could also serve it with a good French bread stick.
Can bo kho be frozen?
Most definitely yes! It can even be frozen with the cooked rice noodles but I recommend not adding the noodles if you are planning on freezing it.
They will be much better added once the bo kho is defrosted and reheated.
You can also store this beef stew in the fridge for up to three days. In fact, the flavours will develop on sitting and your bo kho will be even more amazing.
Can this stew be cooked with other meat?
No. As ‘bo’ is in the name, it must be beef to be a bo kho. That said, you could add chicken, pork or lamb and not be disappointed. It will just not be this famous Vietnamese stew.
If you like to cook as much as Caroline and I do, you might just like to try this recipe using other meats.
Now I’d like to talk herbs…
In addition to chopped chillies and chilli pastes, stews and soups are also served with a big basket of fresh herbs that you can add to dishes like bo kho to your hearts contents. In the herb baskets you’ll find familiar herbs such as parsley, mint and coriander (cilantro) as well as herbs that might not be familiar to you but are really tasty.
If you go to Vietnam, I recommend that you try them all.
The soup and stew culture of Vietnam…
The Vietnamese eat noodle soups and stews for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I spoke to one taxi driver who was sitting on a small stool eating bo kho at 8am one morning.
He had only eaten soup for years! The funny thing was, Caroline and I never tired of the soups sold at food stalls in Vietnam.
They filled us up and were always so amazingly good.
If you like this recipe, you might like to try some of these Vietnamese favourites too!
Vietnamese Rotisserie Chicken
Vietnamese Tofu with Pork Stuffing
Vietnamese Grilled Scallops
Cha Ca – Fried fish with Dill
Vietnamese Chicken Wings
Bun Cha – Grilled Pork Patties in Sauce
Pork on Lemongrass Skewers
Ban Xeo – Crispy Vietnamese Pancakes
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 x 5cm (2inch) piece of ginger, minced
- 70ml fish sauce
- 1 tsp 5 spice powder
- 2 tsp light brown sugar
- 1.25kg (1 ½ lbs) stewing steak
- For the stew
- 3 tbsp rapeseed (canola) oil
- 4 star anise
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass, woody outer removed and then minced
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 x 400ml tins chopped tomatoes
- 750ml (3 cups) coconut water
- 4 tbsp light soy sauce
- 4 carrots cut into 5mm coins
- Additional fish sauce to taste
- To Serve
- 150 – 200 grams rice noodles
- 2 – 4 tbsp chilli oil (optional)
- Sliced red onion
- Chopped greens such as basil, mint and/or coriander (cilantro)
- Lime wedges
- Start by marinating the beef. Place the minced garlic and ginger, fish sauce, chilli powder and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until you have a smooth marinade. Add the beef and stir it in until nicely coated with the marinade mixture. Allow to marinate while you prepare the stew ingredients or overnight. The longer the better.
- When ready to prepare the stew, heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat and add the star anise to infuse into the oil for about 30 seconds.
- Add the sliced onion and fry for about 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Then stir in the lemongrass and chopped garlic and fry for a further 30 seconds. Add the marinated beef with any remaining marinade and brown on all sides for about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the chilli powder and paprika and then add the chopped tomatoes and coconut water. Bring this to a simmer and cook until the beef is almost tender enough to eat. This should take about an hour and 20 minutes.
- Add the soy sauce and carrots and cook until the beef is tender and the carrots are cooked through. Add more fish sauce to taste.
- To serve, spoon the hot stew into bowls and and top each with a little chilli oil, sliced red onions, herbs and lime wedges.