vietnamese beef stew (bò kho)

On saturday evening my friend Nancy and I were headed out to a friend’s birthday party (the aforementioned karaoke extravaganza). I came over to pick her up, chat a bit, and hang out kid-free before heading to the festivities. Upon entering her house I was greeted by one of the most unbelievable food smells I have ever encountered.

“WHAT are you cooking?” I practically shouted.

“Oh, it’s just a Vietnamese beef stew,” she replied casually, as if that pot of bubbling, boiling heaven sitting on the stove was no big deal.

Lucky for me they hadn’t eaten yetò, so I got to join her at the table for a bowl of this incredible stew. It’s thick, rich, and deeply spicy in a hot-but-doesn’t-burn sort of way. The beef is fall-apart tender, and the carrots and mushrooms lend texture and tiny bites of deliciousness.

Even luckier for me, she gave me her recipe.

You must make this. You have to make this. There is no way for me to tell you how important it is that you make this. Like, NOW.


You’ll need meat. My dealer hooked me up with the goods.

You’ll also need some flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Stick it on a plate.

You’ll need garlic two ways: three cloves lightly smashed and four to five minced.

Now here’s where that incredible, indescribable flavor comes from: spice packets available at the Asian market. You’ll need one labeled “Gia Vi Nau Bun Bo Hue” and one called “Gia Vi Nau Bo Kho“. They were easy to find on the spice aisle and cost only $0.79 each.

If you can’t find these, you can re-create the Bo Kho packet by mixing paprika, anise, garlic, chili powder, onion powder, ginger and cloves in descending order of ratio (I haven’t done this, so I can’t help ya much). If you can make your way to an Asian market or order them online, I highly recommend the ease and low price of the pre-mixed stuff.

Begin by dredging the beef in the flour mixture.

Heat two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat and throw in your smashed garlic. Cook for about one to two minutes just to flavor the oil.

Remove the garlic…

…and throw in the floured beef.

Brown it, baby.

Once it’s becoming evenly browned on all sides, toss in your minced garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Add a little red wine to the pot to de-glaze*, stirring rapidly to release all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

*Traditionally, Vietnamese don’t use wine in this recipe. But this isn’t a traditional recipe, it’s just my friend Nancy’s way of making it. So yell at her. Not at me.

Next, add enough water to cover the beef, plus about a half an inch.

Return pan to the stove and add your spices: a half-packet of Bo Kho and three tablespoons of Bo Hue. You can see how powerful the spices are already—they change the water color immediately.

Now you need to measure out some other stuff. 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sugar, and one teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add all of those ingredients to the broth, give it a good stir, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, prep your veggies. Carrots, mushrooms, or whatever else you’d like to add: leeks, bok choy, potatoes, onion, etc. This stew would work nicely with pretty much any veggie you feel like adding.

Dice your mushrooms into quarters…

…and your peeled carrots into half-inch rounds.

By now the stew has thickened quite a bit. Throw in your veggies and add more water if it looks too thick for your liking. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and simmer for another 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The final result?

Oh my.

I find it really hard to describe the flavors of this stew because it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. It’s the tiniest bit sweet, spicy in an almost smoky way, and rich from the meat but well-rounded with flavors from the garlic and vegetables.

It’s just something you’ll have to try to believe.

Oh, the carrots. They were probably my favorite part.

Wait, no. The beef and broth. That was my favorite part.

Actually, just inhaling it. That was my favorite part.

The sooner you make this, the sooner you will realize what your life has been missing.



Vietnamese Beef Stew (Bo Kho), Nancy’s Way

  • 2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 3/4 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 3 cloves smashed garlic
  • 4-5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 packet Bo Kho spices (see above)
  • 3 tablespoons Bo Hue spices (see above)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 small carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ rounds
  • 2-3 cups quartered mushrooms

In a large pot, heat the oil with the smashed garlic over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until the garlic becomes aromatic. Remove the garlic cloves. Dredge the beef pieces in the flour mixture and add to the oil. Cook, stirring often, until evenly browned on all sides. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the red wine and de-glaze, scraping all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add enough water to the pot to cover the beef by a half-inch. Stir in the sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, salt and pepper, half of the Bo Kho spices and three tablespoons of the Bo Hue spices. Bring to a boil, turn heat to medium-low, and let simmer uncovered for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the vegetables and simmer for an additional 90 minutes. Serves 6. A toasted, crusty bread works nicely for sopping up the broth.


  1. This looks so delicious!! Question though – it looks like the meat is taken out before you add the asian spices and sugar/ketchup mixture. Is that the case? If so, do you put it back in before you simmer for the first 90 minutes? Or the second 90 minutes?

  2. I am SO making this…..once I figure out where to find those spices here in Oz 😀

  3. we just made this last week…nice photos!

  4. I just made some of this amazing stew for my kids. I like your friends version too. I live in Huntington Beach CA next to little Saigon. We attend a Vietnamese church and often we eat this stew at the men’s get together. My version was made with Tri-tip and I used brown sugar for the sweet. Also I used some “better than bullion beef” for the beef stock 2tbs. 6lb of Tri-tip and water to cover. Came out great. The traditional style uses a low grade of meat. The Tri-tip makes for a better beef flavor. Thanks for the post it helped me with my cooking knowledge.

  5. Forgot to say the way we eat it down in little Saigon is with French-Baguettes to soak up all that great sauce !!!!!! yum

  6. I made this recently and it was amazing!!! The spice was a little much for me, so I added some sour cream to my bowl and then it was fine. I had a little difficulty navigating the spice aisle at Ranch 99, so maybe the spice packet I got was more intense that yours. Thanks for posting!

  7. Sally Lee says:

    Hi! This looks like a really good recipe, but I was wondering can I omit the meat when making this so it can be vegetarian style?

    • rainyd01 says:

      You could try, but the meat gives this dish a lot of its flavor. You might need to play around a few times before you get it right. A hearty substitute (beans, for example) might work best.

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