Bò Kho – Vietnamese Beef Stew

 

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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.

 

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BÒ KHO – VIETNAMESE BEEF STEW

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)

STEPS:

  • 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!

 

 

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Phở Bò – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

 

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To me, there is nothing like a good bowl of Phở, with its rich, satisfying broth – infused with ginger, onion and spices, and warm rice noodles spiked with fresh herbs, lime and chilies. It’s my comfort food and I would eat it everyday if I could.

When I go home to Orange County, one of the first things I do is head out to what local Vietnamese call “Bolsa” (which we fobby folks pronounce Bone-sah) . There, with friends or family, I’ll get my phở fix at one of the many phở shops that line Bolsa Avenue in Westminster. Once seated at our table, we’ll order our phở in whatever way we like– with cooked brisket (thịt chín), tendon(gân), tripe (sách); with beef balls (bò viên); with cooked flank (thịt nạm) and thin, rare beef slices (thịt tái); or a combination of all the above in what’s known as Dặc Biệt.

Within a matter of minutes, our steaming bowls arrive at our table along with a plate of garnishes which features fresh herbs: thai basil (rau quế), coriander aka cilantro (rau ngò), saw-tooth herb aka culantro (rau ngò gai), bean sprouts, fresh chilies and lime wedges. Sipping my bowl of pho, I marvel at how simple and refined this dish is, for example, in the way the spices sort of echo the flavors of the fresh herbs — the coriander seed with the cilantro and the star anise and cinnamon with with the thai basil. It’s hard not to have your senses awaken to what is hot, sour, salty and sweet.

As we dig in, I become instantly aware that I’m in an Asian environment as I hear slurp, slurp sounds growing all around me. We finish our bowls like a Coca-Cola commercial with a resounding ahhhhh.

 

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Here, in the Midwest, a good bowl of phở is more elusive than perhaps Britney Spears’ underwear. And believe me, I’ve searched —- for phở, that is!

Thus, my only choice is to make my own. In my opinion, it seems only fitting to make a large amount of phở broth so you can invite as many people over as you can and if there’s any broth left over, which there often is in my home, you can freeze it in 2-quart containers. These are perfect to make 2 big bowls of phở anytime later when you’re in a pinch.

The broth is the essence of this dish and so there’s no room for cheating or shortcuts, which means no instant phở paste, imitation phở seasoning or canned broth. Sorry, Sarah Moulton. Yes, making phở at home is laborious. Be prepared to spend a few hours on preparing the ingredients and many more hours to simmer the broth.

At our home, making phở was something usually reserved for the weekend. My mom would often make the broth a day before and assemble the rest of the ingredients the following day. In the end, your reward will be something that is not only delicious but also free of preservatives and artificial flavor enhancers (like MSG). Amen to that!

Phở Bò

INGREDIENTS (8 servings)

  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 5 medium-large shallots
  • 3-4 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 5 lbs. beef leg (shank) bones
  • 1 lb. beef tendon
  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • sachet of whole (not ground) spices:
    • 1 cinnamon stick (regular or Vietnamese cassia)
    • 5 star anise
    • 5 cloves
    • 1 tsp. coriander seed
    • 1 tsp. fennel seed
    • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbl. of salt
  • 4 Tbl. of fish sauce
  • small cube of rock sugar (or 1 Tbl. raw cane sugar)
  • 7-8 quarts water
  • 2 packages of phở rice noodles (dry or fresh)*
  • 1 package beef balls (bò viên)
  • 1lb. beef sirloin (thinly sliced) – to be served rare
  • 1lb. beef tripe, thinly sliced (often labeled as “book tripe” ) – not to be confused with “honeycomb” tripe
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into thin “half -moons”
  • fresh coriander, stems and leaves, roughly chopped
  • green onion, both green and white part, thinly sliced
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • Vegetable garnish:
    • Thai basil
    • Culantro
    • Coriander
    • Bean Sprouts
    • Lime wedges
    • Thai “bird” chilies

DIRECTIONS:

  • To begin, dry-roast the spices in a small skillet on medium heat. Watch carefully as the spices can scorch easily. As the spices toast, they’ll become fragrant and deeply hued.
  • Remove from heat and tie them inside a cheesecloth sachet or large tea infuser. Set aside.
  • Cut the onion and ginger lengthwise, leaving the skins attached.
  • Place the onion, ginger and shallots on a baking sheet and broil them until their skins are nicely charred and blistered (usually 2-3 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • To make a clear broth, begin by parboiling the beef bones. Place the bones in a large stock pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. After 3-5 minutes, drain the bones and give them a good rinse and scrub to remove the most of the sediment.
  • Next, add 7-8 quarts of cold water to the bones and bring to a boil. Skim off any of the scum that rises to the top. Add the beef tendon and beef brisket.
  • Then, add the charred onion, ginger and shallots (skins attached) to the broth, along with the spice sachet. Add the salt, fish sauce and sugar. Bring down the heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours.
  • At this point, the brisket will be ready. It should be cooked through and feel slightly springy to the touch. Remove the brisket from the pot and set it on a plate. Immediately tent with plastic wrap or foil.
  • Continue to simmer the broth another 2-2.5 hours. At this point, the tendon should be ready. Remove it from the pot and place it next to the brisket and cover again. Taste the broth and adjust for seasoning (fish sauce/sugar).
  • Once the tendon has rested for at least 15 minutes, slice the tendon and the brisket into thin slices (against the grain). You may also slice the beef balls in half. Rinse the tripe in hot water and thinly slice (It’s sold pre-cooked).
  • Slice the raw beef sirloin into thin slices, at least 1/8 inch thin. **
  • You’re now ready to assemble the bowls. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Divide the noodles among the bowls and layer the slices of cooked beef brisket, beef tendon, beef balls, beef tripe and raw beef sirloin slices. Top it all off with the yellow and green onion slices and fresh coriander.
  • When you’re ready to serve the phở, bring the broth to rolling boil. Ladle the hot broth (3-4 ladles’ worth) into the prepared bowls and sprinkle fresh cracked black pepper on top. Serve with the herb and vegetable garnish and allow your guests to hand-tear into their bowl whatever amount they like.

*When using dry noodles, be sure to soak them in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes – not longer, as they can become soggy. Unlike regular pasta, you’ll want to boil individual servings of the noodles (they cook very quickly, usually in less than a minute). Place a handful of the noodles into a mesh sieve and immerse in the boiling water. When the noodles are “al dente,” lift the sieve, shaking to remove excess water and drop the noodles into the serving bowls.

**A tip for slicing the beef sirloin is to place it in the freezer for about an hour. This way, it’s easier to cut very thin slices of beef which will cook to rare (or med. rare) once the hot broth is ladled onto it.

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Bon appétit!