Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bo Kho

Tomorrow will be the coldest day in four years here in Minnesota. While the air temperature is going to hit 15º below zero, the wind chill is going to hover around 40º below zero. Needless to say, Zorro will not be getting his daily walk tomorrow.

When the weather turns cold, I like to make big, rib-sticking meals. Last week I made Hungarian Goulash, a truly hearty beef stew and the only recipe originating from Hungary that is truly worth making. Of course, there's always good old American Beef Stew or the gastronomic perfection of the French...Beef Bourguignon. The Germans have their Rindergulasch and of course there's Irish Beef Stew, made with Guiness Stout ("An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get a bottle of Guiness Stout").

When you look at all those recipes, they basically have the same genealogy. They all originated in Europe, with ingredient variations so that each nationality can claim it as their own. You can't imagine my delight when I came across Andrea Nguyen's recipe for Bo Kho...Vietnamese Beef Stew. Her family was airlifted from Saigon in 1975 and, fortunately for us, her mother had committed the recipe to memory and passed it on to her daughter.

This is a totally new and refreshing take on beef stew. We still get the heartiness of beef stew, but with  a whole different slant on the flavors. Vietnamese staples like lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic and ginger bring a whole new dimension to the stew and morphs this dish into a true treat for the palate. Once you make this, your concept of beef stew will be forever changed. This recipe serves four to six people.

2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
2 stalks lemongrass, loose leaves discarded, cut into 3-inch lengths and bruised with the broad side of a cleaver or chef's knife
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2½ to 3 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1½ teaspoons packed brown sugar
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 yellow onion or 8 ounces shallot, finely chopped
1 can (14 ounces) crushed tomato in purée (1½ cups)
½ teaspoon salt
2 whole star anise
3½ cups water
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander or Thai basil

  1. In a bowl, combine beef, lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, brown sugar and bay leaf. Mix well to evenly coat. Set aside to marinate 30 minutes. 
  2. In a heavy-bottomed 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, sear beef on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Each batch should take about 3 minutes total. Reserve lemongrass, bay leaf and leftover marinade.
  3. Lower heat to medium-low, add onions and cook gently, stirring, until fragrant and soft, 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes and salt. Cover and cook until mixture is fragrant and has reduced to a rough paste, 12-14 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure tomato is not sticking to bottom of pan. If it is, stir well and splash in some water.
  4. When a paste has formed, add beef, reserved marinade ingredients and star anise. Give a big stir, then cook, uncovered, to meld flavors, about 5 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat. Simmer until beef is chewy-tender (close to being done), about 1¼ hours. Press on a piece; it should yield but still feel firm. 
  5. Add carrots and return to simmer, adjusting heat if needed. Cook, uncovered, until carrots and beef are tender, about 30 minutes. 
  6. Before serving, taste. Add salt or a shot of fish sauce to intensify flavor, or splash in water to lighten. Remove and discard lemongrass, bay leaf and star anise. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with coriander or basil.

Wine pairing: A nice, fruity Zinfandel

Andrea Nguyen

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