I had some excellent food during my trip to Vietnam. I learned that you can make any dish have a Vietnamese flair by incorporating the trusty combination of lemongrass, ginger, Thai chilis, and fish sauce. This dish is a great example. It borrows the technique and tradition from a French beef stew but substitutes Vietnamese ingredients for a bold interpretation on the classic.
It’s great while the weather remains cold, and easy enough to make on a lazy Sunday. I made it with boneless short ribs, which I find to be more tender than brisket; but either one works great. I also like to sear the meat to give the stew some crispy, charred flavor.
This dish requires finely mincing lemongrass. First, cut the bottom half-inch off the lemongrass stalk as well as the greenish top portion of the stalk, and discard. Peel the outer layers, and then with a sharp chef’s knife, thinly slice the stalk into coin-shaped pieces. Mince the coins until you are left with tiny bits.
Vietnamese Beef Stew
- 2 pounds cubed beef brisket or boneless short ribs
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 4-5 garlic cloves minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
- 1- inch piece fresh ginger minced
- 4 whole star anise pods
- 2 whole Thai chilis
- 4 cups beef stock or low sodium beef broth
- 3 carrots peeled and cut into 1 inch lengths
- 1 large daikon peeled and cut into 1 inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or to taste
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Drizzle beef with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and sprinkle with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir to coat.
Heat a medium to large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. You're now going to brown the beef. Depending on how large your pot is, add half or all of the remaining oil. When the oil is hot, add the beef. Do not overcrowd the beef or it will not sear. Work in batches if you have to. Brown the beef on all sides and then transfer to a plate.
Decrease the heat to medium and add the onion for about 10 minutes until it is nicely caramelized. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 more minute. Then add the lemongrass, tomato paste, ginger, star anise, and whole Thai chilis and cook for a minute or two.
Add the beef and pour in the stock. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Decrease heat so that the liquid is at a gentle boil, and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is tender.
Add the carrots and daikon and cook for 30 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce.
Serve immediately and top with Thai basil or minced chilis if you want.
Modified from Charles Phan’s excellent book Vietnamese Home Cooking.