Vietnamese beef stew

Five out of the ten times we ate at Pho Hoa Restaurant, my husband ordered the beef stew served with buttered French bread (see photo). I’ve tasted it, liked it, and promised him that, someday, I’d cook Vietnamese beef stew at home. My husband, Speedy, was away for three days on a planning workshop and he’s coming back tonight. I thought that Vietnamese beef stew for dinner would make for a nice homecoming especially since the food at the hotel where they stayed was what he described as “lackadaisical.” Okay, I think he deserves a really good dinner after three days of eating so-so meals.

I must warn you that this is a deconstructed recipe. I did find a recipe for beef stew in one of the three Vietnamese cookbooks that I have but I felt that the list of spices was kind of “blonde.” It happens when you have Westerners cooking their version of Asian dishes and they are not that familiar with indigenous spices. So, what I did was to add more spices according to how my taste buds interpreted the ingredients in Pho Hoa’s beef stew. It’s a pretty simple recipe, really, and it’s the combination of spices that can be quite intimidating rather than the cooking procedure itself. But if you can get over the prejudice against the pungent spices, the cooked dish is just wonderful.

This recipe serves 6 to 8.


  • 1-1/2 k. of beef flank (camto or is it campto?), cut into 2-1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 to 4 c. of meat (pork, beef) broth
  • 500 grams of very ripe fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, finely minced
  • 4 star anise
  • 4 tbsps. of vegetable cooking oil (more if you’re not using a non-stick pan)
  • 500 grams of stewing potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 large carrot, about 300 grams, peeled and cut into wedges


  • 3 green finger chilis
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass (lower parts of stalks only)
  • 4 tbsps. of patis (fish sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. of grated turmeric
  • 1 tbsp. of grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp. of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. each of ground nutmeg, cumin and cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. of chili powder

Peel off the outer stalks of the lemongrass and finely slice (click here for a visual guide). Finely slice the green chilis as well. Place in a bowl with the beef, add the patis (fish sauce), turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cumin and chili powder. Mix well. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. How to cook Vietnamese beef stew

Heat the cooking oil in a wok or pan. Saute the garlic and onions. Add the beef and marinade and cook, stirring, until the beef cubes are nicely browned. How to cook Vietnamese beef stew

Pour in the broth. Add the chopped tomatoes and star anise. Season with more patis. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours. How to cook Vietnamese beef stew

When the beef is almost done (normally after an hour and a half), add the carrot and potato wedges. How to cook Vietnamese beef stew

Continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Taste and add more patis if necessary. Serve hot with rice or bread.