Rich spice-braised beef

Rich spice-braised beef

Leanne Kitchen

Called bo kho, this soothing Vietnamese beef braise is quite French in its simplicity, technique and overall elegance, which is hardly surprising, given the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. Versions of this recipe call for the use of annatto oil, largely for colour, and the addition of beef tendons too. We’ve opted not to add these, but feel free to sauté the beef in annatto oil (which you can buy at Asian and Latin supermarkets) and to add 2–3 sliced beef tendons to the mixture at the start of cooking. Serve with a baguette or steamed jasmine rice, for mopping up the delicious sauce.


Quantity Ingredient
60ml fish sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons shaved palm sugar
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1kg chuck or boneless shin beef, trimmed and cut into 4 cm pieces
plain flour, for dusting
80ml vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 cm piece fresh ginger, cut into fine matchsticks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
6 small dried red chillies
1 lemongrass stem, bruised
600ml coconut water
or 600ml Chicken stock
450g carrots, sliced
thai basil leaves, to serve


  1. Combine 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce with the palm sugar, five-spice powder and beef in a large bowl, and toss to coat the meat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours for the flavours to develop.
  2. Drain the meat well, reserving the marinade, and lightly dust with flour.
  3. In a non-stick frying pan or large wok over medium–high heat, cook the meat in 2 tablespoons of the oil, in batches, for 5 minutes, turning often until browned all over. Transfer to a saucepan and wipe the frying pan clean.
  4. Increase the heat to high and cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the frying pan in the remaining oil for 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add to the meat in the saucepan, then stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, remaining fish sauce, spices, lemongrass, coconut water, carrots and reserved marinade, adding a little water to just cover the meat if necessary.
  5. Bring the mixture slowly to a simmer over medium heat, skimming any impurities that rise to the surface, and cook over low heat for 1 hour 10 minutes or until the meat is very tender. Discard the lemongrass and serve with the Thai basil leaves scattered over.
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