Bò Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew




Bò Kho is a Vietnamese beef stew that my mother made for us all the time growing up. Not as thick as American beef stew, it’s more like a hearty soup with carrots and spices. Pierre says it tastes like Asian-y boeuf bourguignon. It’s quite possible to me that this dish has its origins in colonial France, particularly since it’s often served with a toasty baguette. Nevertheless, its character is Vietnamese through and through. Fragrant with fresh lemongrass, star anise and Vietnamese cassia, it’s the perfect breakfast (next to Phở, of course). These days, however, we usually eat it for lunch or dinner.

My mother usually prepared this using beef tendon and the taste was rib-sticking good. The beef tendon, having been cooked slowly and gently for several hours, was moist and tender and its muscle fiber seemed to melt into an unctuous sauce. Whenever I can get tendon from our butcher, Sparrow Meats, I use it for this dish (or also for Bún bò Huế). When they don’t have beef tendon, I’ll get their boneless beef chuck, which is a fantastic substitution. My mother sometimes used curry powder and other times, she used five-spice powder; both were equally good. I liked watching her fry the annatto seeds in oil because I thought it was so neat how these red seeds would yield a yellow-orange pigment (see photos below).

We always ate this with warm, Vietnamese baguettes that we purchased in Little Saigon. It’s a must-dunk-break-into kind of thing. I’ve also seen it served with rice noodles, though that’s likely something only those crazy Northerners would do. Just kidding, Anh. Either way, it’s delicious. In my recipe, I use whole, peeled shallots, which I think add a lovely fragrance and flavor. They look really cute when served as they keep their shape nicely throughout the cooking process. If cute isn’t for you, cut, regular onion also works well.





INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 2.5 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
  • 2 tsp. annatto seeds
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable or peanut oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbl. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbl. Viet curry powder or 2 tsp. five spice powder
  • 2 hefty stalks of lemongrass (green upper part removed) – lightly bruised with the back of a knife or rolling pin
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 stick of Vietnamese cassia or regular cinnamon
  • water
  • 3 Tbl. fish sauce
  • 1-inch chunk of rock sugar or 2 tsp. raw sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-12 small-medium shallots, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5 inch segments
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • fresh cilantro (for garnish)


  • In a non-reactive pot or dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the annatto seeds and cook them for about 4-5 minutes. Once the seeds have bled most of their oil/color, remove the pan from heat and discard the seeds, reserving the oil.
  • Put the pot back on high heat and sear the meat on all sides. Do this in batches to avoid steaming the meat.
  • Once all the meat has been seared, add the garlic and tomato paste to the pot. Use a wooden spoon or chopsticks to stir and cook for about 1 minute.
  • Then, add the seared meat back into the pan along with the curry powder or five spice powder, lemongrass, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Give it a good stir and add enough water to barely cover the meat (approx. 3-4 cups of water)
  • Next, add the fish sauce, sugar and bay leaf.
  • Lower the heat to medium and bring the pot to a gentle boil. At this point, take the heat down to low, loosely cover with a lid and cook for about 1 hour.
  • Now, the meat should be somewhat tender but still have a “bite” to it. Add the carrots and shallots and cook (covered) for another hour or so on low (until the carrots and shallots are cooked through).
  • Before serving, taste and adjust with fish sauce or sugar, if needed.
  • Garnish with black pepper and cilantro.
  • Serve with plenty of warm bread.
Bon appétit!



30 Responses to “Bò Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Bo kho with rice noodles… that’s crazy talk! Your version looks fantastic. I’ll have to try making it with five spice one of these days. There’s nothing better than a good piece of baguette soaked with bo kho sauce.

  2. Anh Says:

    I would love to have a bowl of Pho Sot Vang. 😀 Red wine beef stew with Noodle Soup Rocks!!!! Really you should try it when coming over to Hanoi…

    Right. I just have to take a photo of that bowl of noodles in my next visit home!

  3. Warda Says:

    Gorgeous Dish Christine. I must say that, although I have no experience what so ever in asian cuisine in general, I would love to try and make this beef stew, It looks and sound so fragrant and warm. But the carrots… the carrots are killing me. They are so cute!
    Why do you suggest adding some sugar at the end? Is it to balance the acidity?

  4. holybasil Says:

    Chuck – I’m with ya, Bò Kho with noodles IS crazy talk!

    Anh- Red wine beef stew sounds delicious. I can’t wait to see your photos from Hanoi. We only spent a day there and we don’t have as many photos of it as we would have liked. Oh yes, would you also be able to take some photos of Bún chả & Chả Cá Thanh Long from Hanoi? 🙂

    Thanks – I love those carrots! Actually, there is sugar in the beginning. There usually is a bit of sugar/honey or some sweet to balance the salt/fish sauce in most dishes. In small amounts, the result is not “sweet” tasting at all. My mom adds MSG but I think there’s enough umami flavor from the fish sauce, so I don’t ever use it.

  5. Terry B Says:

    I think you’re right about the colonial origins of this dish. My wife makes a heavenly Vietnamese beef stew that dates back to the country’s days as French Indochina. It is eaten with a knife and fork, not chopsticks, and is served with a baguette—as yours is—instead of rice.

  6. mycookinghut Says:

    OMG! This looks absolutely delicious! It is a great winter dish and I am really craving for it now. J’adore les petites carottes! Elles sont mignonnes!

  7. Rasa Malaysia Says:

    I am not a big meat eater, but this looks very delish. Nice post and gorgeous pictures as usual. 🙂

  8. Happy Cook Says:

    I have never seen such a tempting stew in my life.
    Colour of the sauce and the baby carrots look delicous

  9. Jen Says:

    Good lord, I haven’t had decent beef tendon soup in an age. When my family lived in Washington D.C. for a year, we ate at some great Vietnamese restaurants and my dad would order a bowl and share it with me 🙂 This sounds so good and the marbling on the beef is *perfection*. See, this is why I don’t think I could go vegetarian or even flexitarian, I love beef. I don’t eat it daily, but I love it prepared properly!

  10. holybasil Says:

    Terry B – yep, no chopsticks needed here 🙂
    Mycookinghut – Merci bc!
    RasaMalaysia- Thanks! I’m not a big meat eater either, but I do like it every now and then.
    HappyCook- thanks – I’m looking forward to learning more about Indian cuisine from your site.
    Jen-I’m glad you noticed the marbling – it was the first thing I commented on when I started cutting into the beef. And I’m with you on not going vegetarian. I love veggies a lot (possibly more than meat) but I’d be sad not to eat dishes like this every once in a while.

  11. Johpau Says:

    It looks great and I’ve actually bought the ingredients…BUT I’ve never cooked tendon before but I have eaten it alot…how would I incorporate the tendon in the recipe? Thanks!

  12. alhang Says:

    I usually eat this dish with either a baguette or as mi bo kho, the egg noodles compliment the flavor of the soup quite well and I order this dish as often as I order pho dac biet.

  13. Jeanette Says:

    Great recipe. I just made this last night and it turned out excellent. The taste was extremely authentic. After I did the braising and mixed in the main ingredients, I put the stew in a crock pot and let it simmer for a few hours because I had to leave. When I got home, I steamed the carrots and onions (added potatoes, too) and added to them to the stew right before serving. Thank you sooo much for this recipe. I love your food blog.

  14. Kham Tran Says:

    Just making bo kho now and I’ve used some of your ideas. Love your photos.

  15. Zoe99 Says:

    Our local Vietnamese restaurant in Wiesbaden serves a fabulous beef noodle soup which sounds similar to this stew, but with the vermicelli egg noodles. It’s spicy and delicious and I wish I could remember the name of it so I could find a recipe for it! Not sure what kind of beef they use but it seems similar to the steak used in pho (not marbled or buttery beef; more chewy and flavorful).

    Do you know what it’s called? At this restaurant it’s simply called Bun ba Hué — not sure if that’s descriptive enough.

    • Mia Says:

      Hey Zoe99

      I believe that dish is called Bun Bo Hue.
      Hue-central region of Vietnam

      So it literally means Hue-style beef noodle soup! =D

  16. Sharmaine Says:

    Fantastic. Sooooo much more delicious than any Vietnamese restaurant is serving in my city. Beef Stew soup used to be this delicious at the restaurants when the Vietnamese restaurants first opened in my city when I was a teenager, but since their kids have taken over, using this recipe is the best soup most of us will get. 🙂

  17. Steak Tips Says:

    yummy… thanks for ur tips i’d love to follow you.anyway happy new year ~~~~

  18. Kevin Browne Says:

    And what wine would we be serving with this beef?

    Come on!!! LOL.

    Sooooooo delicious.

    BTW, there is a cool new wine and food event going on where recipes like this stew are being paired with wines.

    Anyone interested can click through. It’s a great way to show off your mad kitchen skills with your corkscrew prowess.

    Please keep things like this one coming.

    Although I am literally starving now.



  19. Cynthia Says:

    I just had the great beef stew at a Highland Cafe in Vietnam. It was so good I started looking for the recipe after I put down my spoon. Your blog is one of the link presented by google.

    I love food therefore love food blogs. Your stew looks delicious.

    You mentioned using annotto seed in your recipe. I’m not sure where i can get that. Have you tried without it? Would the flavor be much different?

  20. michelle Says:

    yesterday I tried another website for this thit bo kho recipe and it was horrible, ended up in the trash. But I think I will give your recipe a try and see. In your recipe you call one cinnamon stick, can I sub it with powder?

    Michelle Vuong

  21. Sorcha Says:

    Just made this for dinner, it was amazing!

  22. uyenvy Says:

    Cynthia…the seeds are more for colour…it gives a reddish colour when pan fried with a little oil on low heat..

  23. Ca-Chua Says:

    Thank you for this delicious recipe. It’s much better than the seasoning cubes sold at the grocery store.

    I have habits of altering recipes. I used cinnamon powder and without annato seeds. I also added potatoes to the stew. It was still delicious and beautifully red.

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