In Vietnam, due to the geographical differences in cooking styles and spices, one dish can have many different regional interpretations. Beef stew is one of those dishes: Northern beef stew usually only has ginger and lemongrass, whereas the Southern version has five spices as well. The Northern stew contains much less juice compared to the Southern stew – as the latter is often served in a large bowl filled with sauce and tender pieces of beef and carrots; and it is to be eaten with hủ tiếu (kuy teav – a type of rice noodles), or warm crusty baguettes.
I am from Hanoi – the North, but I was very lucky to have a neighbour came from the South who was a great cook. She was the one who inspired and taught me the true Southern way of making this delicious stew. The most challenging thing in this recipe is the seasoning. Five spices, ginger and lemongrass all have quite strong flavours, thus mastering a balance of spices is crucial in making this dish flavourful, not overly powerful.
Ditch your packaged seasoning cube that is spiked with sodium, preservatives and MSG, and take quality control into your own hand. Warm and hearty homemade stew is the perfect cure for cold and chilly days, and it deserves time, attention and some love.
SOUTHERN VIETNAMESE BEEF STEW RECIPE
Part A – Beef Marinade
- 500 grams beef shank
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp five spice powder
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder or 1 tsp fresh chopped garlic
Part B – Tomato Sauce
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 shallot – chopped
- 250 gr fresh tomato – quartered
Part C – The Stew
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 shallots – finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
- 1 lemongrass
- 1 star anise
- 1 piece of cinnamon
- 200 – 250 grams carrot
- Salt, sugar, five spice powder, black pepper
- Herbs (as side dish): sweet basil, spring onion, bean sprouts, …
1. Marinade the beef
– Clean the beef thoroughly and pat dry using a paper towel.
– Dice into 2.5 x 2.5cm pieces.
– Season well with part A ingredients. Leave to marinade in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.
2. Make the tomato sauce
– In a saucepan, heat the oil, and fry the shallots until fragrant.
– Add the quartered tomatoes into the saucepan. Season with salt and sugar and stir well. Add about ½ cup of cold water into the pan. Keep the sauce simmering over medium heat and continue cooking for about 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes soften and can easily be smashed and pureed. Take the pan out of the stove.
– Run the sauce through a sieve. If the sauce is too thick, add some water.
We should end up with a smooth and thick tomato sauce, the tomato skin and seeds will remain in the sieve. You can use canned unflavoured tomato sauce, but I always recommend fresh tomatoes.
3. Make the beef stew
– In a large saucepan or a casserole, heat the cooking oil and fry onions until fragrant.
– Add beef and garlic and stir fry at high heat. When the beef pieces are browned and the meat becomes tenderer, add the tomato sauce and mix well (do not over stir-fry the beef at this stage because it may turn too chewy and tough).
– Add in hot water until the beef is submerged. Bring the stew to a boil, and skim any fat on the surface.
– Add lemongrass, star anise and cinnamon. Lower the heat and stew until beef is soft and tender.
Star anise and cinnamon are both very strong, so adjust according to your own taste.
– If you are not very familiar with them, reduce the amount or substitute with a pinch of 5 spice powder.
– To increase their flavors however, you can toast them lightly before adding to the beef stew.
– About half way through cooking time (from the moment you lower the heat), taste and season the beef stew one more time if necessary. At this point, the beef and the tomato sauce have had some time to develop their flavours, therefore your stew may taste quite different from when you initially start cooking. I usually add about 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar and some more five spice powder, but adjust to your own liking. Also, add more hot water if the stew becomes too dry.
– Meanwhile, dice the carrots into small cubes. When the beef is cooked, add carrots and cook until both carrot and beef turns completely soft. It took me about 45 – 50 minutes to cook using a normal saucepan on the stove, so you can save a bit more time using the pressure cooker.
– Serve the stew with bread (or rice, noodles, … as you prefer). If you are serving with hủ tiếu, add more water to the stew. If you are serving with bread, you can thicken the stew by mixing 2 tsp of flour/tapioca powder in 20-30 ml water, and slowly adding the flour mixture into the stew and stirring well when the stew is done. Remember to stir while you pour to prevent the flour from clumping.
- The beef is soft and tender but not chewy.
- The sauce should have a deep red and brown colour, and should have the rich umami taste of beef, tomato, and five spices.
Have a great weekend full of tasty dishes!
- Recipe & Photos: Linh Trang
- Written by: Phương Nguyễn
- Edited by: Thảo Đan