It’s stewing season. And while I love a good, simple, Julia-Child-style stew, I also like to get a bit complex. A bit spicy and fragrant. Bo kho hits all of those and then some. While it’s said to have French origins, this beef stew is in a league all of its own. Full of gelatin-rich beef stock, aromatic spices, hearty vegetables, and brightened with fresh herbs and lime juice, it’s a perfect nourishing dish to make on a grey day or a lazy Sunday.
Grass-fed Beef: Rich in Good Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
In my household, we favor grass-finished beef over conventionally raised. I prefer the taste. I love supporting local farmers, and the extra nutritional benefits can’t be beat. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is one of those bonus nutritional benefits. It’s a fatty acid that has a concentration 2-3 times higher in grass-fed beef than conventional. It has powerful antioxidant activity and may be protective for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. You may also notice that the fat in grass-fed meat has a yellow hue; that’s due to the high concentration of pigmented carotenoids which are precursors to vitamin A, necessary for vision, skin health, and creation of new blood cells. Grass-fed meat is also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that is helpful for the immune system and a number of bodily functions. It’s higher in several minerals, including zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. And lastly, it boasts more omega-3 content that grain-fed meat; anywhere from 2-5 times more. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help with several brain disorders from depression to Alzheimer’s.
Gelatin is the broken down collagen in bones and connective tissue. Think calf foot, beef tendon, oxtail, and knuckle bones. It’s the jiggly stuff that we’re (hopefully) left with after making a nourishing broth. In our modern diet of predominately muscle meats, we typically don’t get as much as we need. Gelatin is far higher in the amino acids proline and glycine, which are important for strong joints, a happy nervous system, resilient skin, and healthy gut and digestion. You can learn more about bone broth here.
I love whole spices. While pre-ground spices have their place (heck, I use one in this very recipe), whole spices are the clear winner. They retain their oils which means more flavor and prolonged freshness. The aroma is more pronounced and nuanced. I recommend finding whole star anise, cinnamon sticks, and annatto seeds. The first two will be fairly easy to find, while the annatto seeds may be accessible at a well stocked natural grocer or easily found online or at ethnic markets. Annatto seeds are very hard and bright red. Their flavor and aroma is fat-soluble, so in this recipe I draw that out by sautéing them in pastured lard. The lard turns vibrant ruby red and the smell is intoxicating. I’ve been wondering how to describe the flavor, but it’s sort of sweet, nutty, peppery, and deeply earthy — almost mossy. I like to make a large batch of the annatto oil and use it to spruce up rice dishes, soups, and stews. If you decide to make extra, it keeps in the fridge for about 2 months.
Vietnamese-Style Beef Stew (Bo Kho)
- 3 tablespoons lard
- 1 tablespoon annatto seeds
- 4 medium shallots finely chopped
- 2 Thai chilies finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 4 lemongrass stalks trimmed of tough parts and crushed
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
- 2 1/2 pounds beef chuck trimmed and cubed
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 3 cups beef bone broth
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 3 carrots chopped
- 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes peeled and cubed
- Thai Basil to serve
- Limes to serve
- Heat lard in a heavy pot , I prefer enameled cast iron, over high heat. Once the lard is melted, lower to medium heat and add annatto seeds. Sauté in fat for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant, careful of any seeds that pop and stirring constantly. Strain seeds from aromatic fat and allow to cool before tossing out. Leave the lard in the pot.
- Heat annatto fat on medium high and add chopped shallots, allow to get some color, about 5 minutes. Lower heat a little and add chopped chiles, grated garlic, grated ginger. Stir like crazy to release the flavors into the oil. Careful not to let the paste burn, about 4 minutes. Then add whole bruised lemongrass stalks, star anise, and cinnamon stick and sauté for 2 additional minutes.
- Add beef and stir to coat with spice mixture. Add Chinese five spice, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, palm sugar, fish sauce, and warmed beef broth. Stir well and bring to boil, then lower and cover and let cook for 2 hours. At the 2 hour mark, add onion, carrot, and potatoes and continue to cook for another hour uncovered. Vegetables should be cooked through and meat fork-tender. If a thicker sauce is desired, increase heat to medium and cook for 30 more minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
- Remove lemongrass, star anise, and cinnamon stick before serving and serve stew with fresh Thai basil, cilantro, and lime wedges.