Instant Pot Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)

Bò Kho (Beef Stew)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

A Vietnamese beef stew like Mama makes

Ingredients

  • 500 g (~1 lb) beef shank, cut into 1.5cm piece (~3/5″) thick piece
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 small onions, one for stew, chopped loosely, plus one for serving, sliced thin
  • 2 Tbsps Shaoxing/Shao Hsing cooking wine
  • 10 cm (4″) piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1 cm (1/5″) pieces
  • 5 Tbsps tomato paste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 star anise pieces
  • 2″ cinnamon stick
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, lightly pounded and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 6 cups beef stock (low sodium or unsalted)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 Tbsps fish sauce
  • Fresh basil, for serving
  • Fresh cilantro, for serving
  • Fresh lime pieces, for serving
  • 4 Bánh mì (Vietnamese baguettes), for serving

Directions

Melt the butter in Instant Pot on “Sauté” setting, add pieces of beef shank in batches, browning the pieces, then setting aside. Add garlic and onion, stirring to cook until browned and onion softens. Add Shaoxing and stir. Make a packet using a piece of cheesecloth, and wrap the bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon stick, and lemongrass pieces, tying tightly. Add packet to the pot with the ginger, tomato paste, and stock. Stir well until tomato paste has mostly dissolved. Add carrots and potatoes. Close Instant Pot, sealed on “Meat/Stew” setting and cook for 50 minutes. Release pressure, add fish sauce, stirring well. Ladle into bowls and serve with sliced onion, basil, cilantro, lime pieces and baguette.

And now for the details…

This post is an ode to my mother in law. Of the many delicious Chinese and Vietnamese dishes that Mama makes for us, Bò Kho is one of my absolute favourites. And because Mama knows it’s my favourite, she makes it for us fairly often. However, during COVID isolation, we were cut off from Mama and Dad, as they are older and we wanted to make sure they were safe. And not only were we cut off from seeing them in person, we were also cut off from Mama’s delicious cooking! Which meant… I needed to figure out Bò Kho at home. I tried to get this recipe as close as I could to Mama’s, and it’s fairly close, but it’s still not a true replacement for the bowls of love she sends home with us 🙂

This stew is perfect for the type of weather we have outside right now. It’s fall here, and it’s cloudy, raining (oh god, it just started to snow) and there’s a distinct chill in the air, perfect for a nice, warming, well-spiced stew that seems to heat you up from the inside.

I have had different styles of Bò Kho at many different Vietnamese restaurants. The broth will range from thin to thick (the thick being similar to what one would expect from a western style stew), the spice combinations are often slightly different at each one, and the cut of beef used varies from shank to chuck to brisket. My favourite, of course, tends toward the style that Mama makes, which is a thinner (but very flavourful) broth and nice pieces of beef shank.

The shank is an extremely sinewy piece of meat. It comes from the leg of the cow, and because it is such a well-used muscle, it has quite a bit of connective tissue (collagen) marbled in with the meat. If you’re used to your beef being primarily for steaks, you might look at this cut and think “yuck, that is going to be one chewy piece of meat.” But stay with me here, because cooking this connective tissue low and slow (and in liquid) allows it to break down so that is becomes this rich, velvety bite. TBH, I like this cut in the stew for that soft, tender bite, even more so than the meat itself.

Finding beef shank in your local grocery store is likely not going to happen. I found ours at our asian supermarket, but in most western grocery stores, this cut is not frequently found. You can ask the butchers behind the desk to see if they can bring it in for you, or find a local butcher or specialty grocery store to get this cut of meat. This if often sold with the bone-in as well, but I prefer the boneless for this stew. Make sure to cut the pieces across the grain, as shown in the photo above to get the right “bite” once the meat is done cooking.

Let’s get into it, shall we? We start by heating up our Instant Pot to “Sauté” and melt the butter. Cook the beef pieces, turning halfway, to get a nice browned piece of meat. We will be cooking the beef pieces in batches so we don’t overcrowd the pot, setting aside the meat onto a plate after it has browned and adding the next batch. The reason we do not want to overcrowd the pot is we want to brown the meat, and get that richness to add to the stew, rather than the steaming that would result from having too many pieces in the pot. Don’t worry about trying to cook the beef pieces all the way through, we just want them to brown. They will be spending a lot of time in heat with the stew, so we do not need to worry about cooking them through just yet.

Once the pieces of meat have all been browned and set aside, add the garlic and one of the onions (that has been loosely chopped) to the pot. Stir until the garlic has just started to brown and the onion have started to soften. Then add the Shaoxing wine, stirring to help stir up some of the browned bits of meat on the bottom of the pot into the liquid, and cook until the wine is almost fully reduced.

Shaoxing wine is a rice wine originating from the city Shaoxing in China. You will be able to find it in most Chinese markets, or possibly in your own grocery store if you have a decent selection of asian cooking products. If you cannot find it, substitute with dry sherry or Marsala instead. If you want to know more, The Woks of Life blog has a great post about it! And to make it easier, here is a link to their post about Shaoxing Wine 🙂

Next, add the meat pieces back into the pot and pour the broth over top, stirring well to bring up any additional browned bits into the liquid. Beef, chicken, pork, or veal broth can all be used in this case. You can turn the pot off for now, because we are going to get our aromatics ready for the stew. In this recipe, we have quite a few aromatics helping to flavour the broth: star anise, lemongrass, cinnamon, bay leaves and ginger. When you are buying the ingredients for this dish, so not confuse star anise with anise seeds. They are actually from two different plants, and while they are very similar in smell/flavour, star anise is a quarter-sized, star-shaped dried fruit that imparts its flavour to the broth over time, and the recipe would not be quite the same with 5 little anise seeds 🙂

I ended up not wanting to use a whole cinnamon stick for this recipe, so I just snapped a cinnamon stick in half to get the appropriate length.

Because the majority of these aromatics are not something you want to chew and eat once you’re done the stew, I chose to wrap them in a little bundle of cheesecloth so I could easily pick it out once the cooking was done. You can also just add them right into the stew as is, and pick all the bits out later. But I am lazy, and while Mama typically picks these ingredients out for us before serving (yes, we are that spoiled), I wanted to make it as easy as possible to remove them before eating. I cut a 15 cm/6″ piece of cheesecloth and wrapped up the bay leaves, anise, lemongrass and cinnamon stick together, then secured the bundle with a piece of cooking twine. I threw the ginger into the stew on its own, outside of the bundle, because I actually enjoy the bites of ginger pieces. But if you are not interested, you can make a larger cheesecloth bundle and add the ginger in with the rest.

Now’s the time to get that stew cooking! Add that tasty little bundle and the ginger into the pot with everything else. At this time, we are also going to add the tomato paste, stirring well to mix it into the broth, and then the carrots and potatoes. If you want to try something a little different, you can use taro root instead of potatoes. It is a root vegetable very similar to potato in texture, and Mama has used this instead on a number of occasions.

Next, close and seal up your Instant Pot, setting it to “Meat/Stew” setting for 50 minutes. Now, you can always do all of this without an Instant Pot. The sautéing bits would be done on medium-high heat, and at this point, we would turn the heat to a low simmer on the stove (pot covered). But you are going to need to increase the cooking time to at least 3 hours in order to get the flavours to fully meld and for that beef shank to become tender instead of chewy.

Once done cooking, release the pressure and open up that glorious pot of deliciousness. One last thing to do before ladling the soup into bowls: add the fish sauce and stir well. You can always add the fish sauce before closing up and cooking, and still get the umami-hit, but you will lose the complexity and added flavour that the uncooked fish sauce provides.

Serve up the bowls with the fresh basil, cilantro, onion and lime wedges on the side. This allows folks to add however much of these fresh aromatics as they would like (especially the cilantro, since we all know someone out there who can’t stand the taste :P). Dig in, dipping torn pieces of the bánh mì into the broth as you slurp away at the stew. For extra authenticity and to match exactly as Mama serves it, mix together fresh squeezed lemon juice, salt and white pepper in a small, shallow dish and dip the beef into the mix as you eat.

Happy eating.

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