I have fond memories of my grandma’s aromatic Vietnamese beef stew which echoed the fragrant notes you would find in phở bò (beef noodle soup); namely star anise, cinnamon and cloves. Nowadays, pre-packaged bò kho paste or spice mix are readily available at most Asian supermarkets but I prefer to use both in tandem to create the ideal flavour profile.
As a first generation immigrant living in early 90s Australia, with a large family of adult children and grandchildren to feed, my grandma would use any meat that was accessible and affordable - usually secondary cuts and offal. Decades on I took inspiration from her original process and experimented with various cuts of beef for bò kho.
Eventually, I found the perfect assortment of protein: oxtail, beef short ribs, beef tripe and beef tendon. Oxtail and beef short ribs not only provide another layer of depth to the stew but leave behind collateral beauty in the form of succulent and tender meat. Slow cooked beef tripe and beef tendon are optional but recommended for texture, with the tripe becoming soft and slightly chewy and the tendon soft and gelatinous.
Pine mushrooms are another new addition. Mushrooms aren’t traditional in a bò kho and pine mushrooms are foreign to Vietnamese cuisine. However, in Australia when pine mushrooms are in season, they quickly become a temporary commodity. When a good friend of mine dropped off a generous batch he had harvested in the Macedon ranges, it triggered another light bulb moment. Unlike most mushrooms, pine mushrooms can hold their firm texture throughout the slow cooking process, making them perfect for absorbing the deep flavours of the bò kho stew.
Traditionally, bò kho can be served with crusty bread, noodles or rice. I prefer egg noodles generously dressed with the slightly thick bò kho gravy and garnished with a generous amount of thai basil, bean sprouts, saw tooth coriander, garlic chives, chilli, and a gentle squeeze of lime.
Bò kho is such a versatile meal, a winter warmer or a summer snack, so grab yourself some Vietnamese bread rolls, baguettes, Chinese donuts, rice or noodles then try this recipe out. If slow beef braises do it for you, do yourself a favour for flavour!
1.2kg ox tail or beef brisket
1.2kg beef short ribs cut in large chunks
500g beef tendons
500g honeycomb tripe
1 tablespoon gia vị bò kho paste
3 tablespoon gia vị bò kho powder
2 stalks lemongrass
1 tablespoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
600g pine mushrooms (large slices)
3 Thai shallots 3 star anise
15g cassia bark
4L chicken stock or Water
1 young coconut (water only)
10g mandarin peel
50 ml passata
1 daikon radish
20 ml cooking oil
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chicken powder/half tablespoon anchovy salt
4 tablespoons potato starch
1kg egg noodles
Add oil, star anise and cassia bark to a large casserole pot and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove the spices to avoid them from burning.
Sear meat in batches on high then remove.
Add garlic, Thai shallots and ginger and fry for 2 minutes or until golden
Return meat and add tripe, tendons and remains of the marinade
Add passata, an additional tablespoon of gia vị Bò Kho paste and stir well.
Add chicken broth, young coconut water, mandarin peel, pine mushrooms, chicken powder and bring to the boil then simmer covered.
After 2 hours of simmering, add carrots and daikon and simmer uncovered for a further hour
Season to taste with salt and pepper then thicken the stew with a few tablespoons of potato starch water at a time until a gravy like consistency is achieved.
Ladle onto boiled fresh egg noodles and garnish with coriander/sawtooth coriander, bean sprouts, garlic chives and enjoy! For the ultimate experience, have a side of Chinese donuts or Vietnamese bread rolls to clean up the remains of the gravy.