Lemongrass Beef Stew with Tomatoes and Star Anise

Bò Kho


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    bowls as a one-dish meal

Appears in

Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore

Southeast Asian Flavors

By Robert Danhi

Published 2008

  • About

Cẩm-Vân Nguyễn, a friend and famous cooking teacher in Vietnam, invited me to work with her at her cooking school in Saigon during my last visit. This is an adaptation of her recipe. Annatto seeds provide brilliant orange color. This stew originated in the tropics but it seems custom made for a cold night. French baguettes are always used in Vietnam for mopping up the gravy, but the dish goes equally well over steamed rice or wide rice noodles.


Beef Stew

  • 2 lb. (1 kg.) Beef chuck or shank meat, -inch (3.8 cm.) chunks
  • 3 tbsp. Fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • 1 tbsp. Vietnamese curry powder
  • 2 tbsp. Granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. Minced ginger
  • ¼ cup Vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. Annatto seeds
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks Lemongrass, trimmed, cut into 3-inch (7.5 cm.) lengths and bruised lightly
  • 3 pieces Star anise
  • 1 piece Cassia (Cinnamon), about 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm.) long
  • ½ lb. (227 g.) Carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm.) pieces on angle
  • 2 medium Tomatoes, core and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm.) chucks

Garnishes, Table Salad and other Table Condiments

  • ½ medium Yellow onion, sliced into paper-thin rings, rinsed under cool water, dried well
  • 8 leaves Vietnamese saw leaf herb, shaved thinly about ¼-inch (0.6 cm.) slices or 12 sprigs of cilantro
  • 8 to 12 sprigs Asian basil
  • 2 medium Limes, cut into Southeast Asian style wedges
  • 2 to 4 lg. Crisp Light baguette
  • 4 lg. Red or orange chilies, thinly sliced, about inch (0.3 cm.) thick
  • 2 tbsp. Vietnamese chili-salt


  1. Toss beef in bowl with fish sauce, curry powder, sugar, and ginger. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Combine oil and annatto seeds in 4 qt. (4 l.) saucepan, heat until they begin to sizzle (less than 1 minute) in hot oil. Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes to infuse oil. Strain or scoop out annatto seeds with a slotted spoon.
  3. Heat pan with annatto-infused oil, lemongrass, star anise and cassia; cook lightly for 2 minutes. Add garlic; cook until aromatic but not brown, about 30 seconds.
  4. Increase heat to high, add marinated beef, and mix well. Cook stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add enough water to just cover the beef. Bring to a boil, and then lower to simmer.
  5. Cook, uncovered, until meat is almost fully tender, about 1 hour. Taste; adjust seasoning with fish sauce, salt, and sugar. Stir in carrots and tomatoes; simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots are tender.
  6. If desired (to prevent any unpleasant surprises), remove the star anise, cassia and lemongrass. Adjust thickness and flavor intensity by adding water. Add fish sauce or salt as needed.

Assembly of stew bowls

  1. Divide stew into large deep bowls, top with sliced onions and sliced saw-leaf herb.
  2. Serve with side dishes of sliced chilies and chili-salt.
  3. Have plenty of light, crisp, warm baguettes on hand to sop up the gravy.