In Vietnam, each region has its own unique variations of dishes due to different cooking styles and spices used. Beef stew is no exception: the Northern version typically includes ginger and lemongrass, while the Southern version incorporates five spices. The Southern stew tends to have more sauce and features tender beef and carrots served in a large bowl, enjoyed with rice noodles or warm crusty baguettes.
Although I come from Hanoi in the North, I was fortunate to have a neighbor from the South who was an excellent cook. She inspired me and taught me the authentic Southern method of preparing this delightful stew. The key challenge lies in seasoning the dish. With the strong flavors of five spices, ginger, and lemongrass, achieving a well-balanced blend of spices is crucial to ensure a flavorful dish without overpowering it.
Instead of relying on packaged seasoning cubes loaded with sodium, preservatives, and MSG, take control of the quality yourself. A homemade stew, warm and comforting, is the perfect remedy for cold and chilly days. It deserves time, attention, and a touch of love.
Part A – Beef Marinade
- 500g beef shank
- 1.5 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of five spice powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder or 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic
Part B – Tomato Sauce
- 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 250 grams of fresh tomatoes, quartered
Part C – The Stew
- 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 lemongrass
- 1 star anise
- 1 piece of cinnamon
- 200-250 grams of carrots
- Salt, sugar, five spice powder, black pepper
- Herbs (as a side dish): sweet basil, spring onion, bean sprouts, …
(Note: The measurements and ingredients may vary based on personal preference and serving size.)
- Marinade the beef
- Thoroughly clean the beef and pat it dry using a paper towel.
- Dice the beef into 2.5 x 2.5cm pieces.
- Season the beef well with the ingredients listed in part A. Allow it to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.
- Make the tomato sauce
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the shallots until they become fragrant.
- Place the quartered tomatoes in a saucepan and season with salt and sugar. Stir well and add approximately ½ cup of cold water. Simmer the sauce over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes become soft and easily mashable. Remove the pan from the stove.
- Strain the sauce through a sieve to remove the tomato skin and seeds. To thin out the sauce, add water if it is too thick.
The end result should be a smooth and thick tomato sauce. Using fresh tomatoes is recommended, but you can also use canned unflavored tomato sauce.
3. To make the beef stew:
- In a large saucepan or casserole, heat the cooking oil and fry the onions until fragrant.
- Add the beef and garlic, and stir-fry over high heat. Once the beef pieces are browned and the meat becomes tender, add the tomato sauce and mix well. Avoid over-stirring the beef at this stage to prevent it from becoming chewy and tough.
- Pour in enough hot water to submerge the beef. Bring the stew to a boil and skim off any fat that accumulates on the surface.
- Add the lemongrass, star anise, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beef becomes soft and tender.
Star anise and cinnamon have strong flavors, so adjust the amount according to your taste preference.
If you’re not familiar with these spices, you can reduce the quantity or use a pinch of five spice powder as a substitute.
For enhanced flavors, you can lightly toast the star anise and cinnamon before adding them to the beef stew.
- About halfway through the cooking time (after reducing the heat), taste the beef stew and season it again if needed. The flavors of the beef and tomato sauce will have developed, resulting in a different taste from the initial cooking stage. I usually add approximately 1 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of sugar, and some more five spice powder, but adjust according to your liking. If the stew becomes too dry, add more hot water.
- In the meantime, finely chop the carrots into small cubes. Once the beef is cooked, add the diced carrots and continue cooking until both the carrots and beef become completely tender. Using a regular saucepan on the stove, this process typically takes about 45-50 minutes. However, if you prefer to save some time, you can use a pressure cooker.
- Serve the stew with bread or rice noodles, or any preferred accompaniment. If serving with hủ tiếu, add more water to the stew. If serving with bread, you can thicken the stew by mixing 2 tsp of flour or tapioca powder with 20-30 ml of water. Slowly add the flour mixture to the stew while stirring well. This should be done when the stew is done cooking. Stir while pouring to prevent clumping of the flour.
- The beef should be soft and tender, avoiding any chewiness.
- The sauce should have a deep red and brown color, with a rich umami taste from the beef, tomato, and five spices.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with delicious dishes!