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Milk Street: Taste of Vietnam (Ep 509)

Vietnamese Beef Stew with Star Anise and Lemon Grass Start to finish: 31⁄4 hours (45 minutes active)
Servings: 4 to 6

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, literature teacher and home cook Nguyên Thį Thúy
showed us how to make bò kho, a fragrant beef stew that marries local ingredients with
French culinary technique. Though recipes for bò kho vary from cook to cook, star anise
and lemon grass are essential flavorings, the finished broth is always quite soupy (not
thickened as Western stews are) and its color is deep red. In simplifying the formula
we were taught in Vietnam, we skipped the 30-minute marination of beef with seasonings and we opted to use low-sodium beef broth instead of concentrated meat
bouillon. We also chose to use beef chuck instead of brisket, as we find chuck has the
right amount of fat and connective tissue to yield rich flavor and body. Coconut water,
along with the beef broth, is the cooking liquid; its natural sugars and minerals
enhance the flavor of the stew. Ladle the bò kho over rice stick noodles (prepared
according to package directions) or serve with steamed jasmine rice or a crusty baguette.

Don’t use sweetened coconut water. A small amount of natural sugar is normal but
check the ingredients listed on the label for added sugar. Also, after adding the liquid to
the pot and bringing it to a boil, be sure to turn down the heat and simmer without
stirring to allow the scum (proteins from the meat) to rise to the surface. After a few
minutes of simmering, use a spoon to skim off and discard the scum; this results in a clearer, more visually appealing broth.

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 ounces fresh ginger, unpeeled, sliced
8 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce, plus more if needed
4 stalks fresh lemon grass, trimmed to the bottom 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, bruised
6 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 11⁄2-inch chunks
4 cups or one 33-fluid ounce container unsweetened coconut water (see headnote)
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
4 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus lime wedges to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Thinly sliced white onion, to serve
Fresh cilantro and/or basil, to serve

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until barely smoking. Add the yellow onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until well browned and beginning to stick to the pot, about 1
minute. Stir in the chili-garlic sauce, then add the lemon grass, star anise, cinnamon and beef; stir to coat. Add the coconut water and broth. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then reduce to medium-low and cook, uncovered and without stirring, for about 4 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer.

Using a wide spoon, skim off and discard the scum from the surface of the liquid. Reduce to medium-low, cover and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until a skewer inserted into the beef meets no resistance, 2 to 21⁄2 hours.

Remove the pot from the heat. Remove and discard the lemon grass, star anise, cinnamon and ginger. Tilt the pot to pool the cooking liquid to one side, then use the wide spoon to skim off and discard as much fat as possible from the surface.

Stir the carrots into the stew and return to a simmer over medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice. Taste and season with additional chili-garlic sauce (if desired), salt and pepper. Ladle the stew into bowls and top with sliced onion and cilantro and/or basil. Serve with lime wedges.

Vietnamese Braised Lemon Grass Chicken Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
Servings: 4

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, home cook Phạm Thị Thanh Tâm taught us to make her
version of braised chicken with lemon grass. Seasoned with turmeric, garlic, chilies and
fish sauce—staple ingredients in the Vietnamese kitchen—the dish was remarkably simple, yet wonderfully aromatic and full of flavor. Instead of mincing fresh lemon grass, which requires a good amount of time and effort, we simply bruise the stalks so they split open and release their essential oils into the braising liquid; we remove and discard the stalks when cooking is complete. The soy sauce in the recipe is our own addition, a stand-in for the MSG and pork bouillon that Phạm used, and we opt to thicken the braising liquid with a little cornstarch to give the sauce just a little body. Serve the chicken with steamed jasmine rice.

Don’t leave the skin on the chicken. We want the bone, which adds flavor to the
braise, but not the skin, which turns soggy with simmering and releases fat into the liquid. But bone-in thighs are almost always sold with skin, so we simply pull it off before cooking.

1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 Fresno or jalapeño chilies, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
3 stalks fresh lemon grass, trimmed to the bottom 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, bruised
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
21⁄2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, skin removed and discarded, patted dry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Ground black pepper
Cilantro or sliced scallions, to serve

In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, chilies and turmeric, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon grass, broth, soy sauce, sugar and 1 cup water, then bring to a simmer. Add the chicken
skinned side down in even layer and return to a simmer. Cover, reduce to medium-low and cook until a skewer inserted into the chicken meets no resistance, 30 to 40 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken skinned side up to a serving bowl. Cook the braising liquid over medium until reduced by about half, about 12 minutes. Remove and discard the lemon grass. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Whisk the mixture into the braising liquid, return to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Off heat, stir the lime juice and fish sauce into the braising liquid, then taste and season with pepper. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot, cover and let stand until heated through, about 5 minutes. Return the braise to the serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro.

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To see other recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and other shows, visit  Cooking with WSKG.