My pantry is really full and I need to do something about this. It has become somewhat ridiculous. I have containers of food products that have been sitting in the kitchen for over a year and I have yet to do anything with them. My problem is...I have a disease. There is no name for it but the closest name would be "Recipe reading-over-excited-food-shopaholic." I get inspired by food TV, food magazines, foodie friends, food blogs, recipes on the back of labels of the food products in my kitchen, and etc. Then I think that I must cook that recipe right away and I go out and buy the ingredients and then something happens and I get distracted. I'm serious. This is how it works in my life.
A dish that I have wanted to make for a long time is a Vietnamese stew called Bo Kho. Bo Kho is normally made with beef and is rich in spices; cinnamon, paprika, anise, cloves, ginger, chili. My favorite thing about this stew (and with many Vietnamese dishes) is that beef tendon is used and it gives the stew a rich, fatty flavor. This stew has been made easier to make because there are packets of spices that you can purchase that will save you money and time. All the necessary spices are mixed and ready for you to use.
When I first agreed to be part of the lamb cooking competition, I knew I wanted to make an Asian style stew. Well, I actually wanted to make fifty different dishes but my life as a full-time, "just-for-fun-cook" has not begun yet. So the fact that I had a packet of Bo Kho spices in the kitchen made this an easy decision.
The four pound, boneless leg of lamb given to us by Border Springs Farms was beautiful. The meat was this deep red color, it smelled fresh, and it was an all-around great piece of meat. I purchased some lamb at a Halal market a few weeks ago and the meat was much drier and much more difficult to work with. It just showed me the difference between getting meat from a market versus getting it directly from a farm.
While I was prepping everything, I could hear the voices of the family members who have taught me to cook Vietnamese food in my head. "Just a little of this, just a little of that." "Heat the soup until you see little bubbles. Then it is ready." "The skin of the ginger should be thin. If it is too thick, it is old ginger and will not be good." My family never cooked with recipes. They cooked by the look, the smell, and the feel of the ingredients. So this recipe might reflect this.
Lemongrass Lamb Stew
3 pounds of lamb, cubed (keep some of the fat on the meat)
one large onion, diced
4 medium carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 cups of warm beef broth
6 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, outer layers removed, cut into 2 inch pieces
(*note use the tender, bottom part of the stalk)
2 bay leaves
2 star anise
3 tablespoons of ketchup
1 oz of Bo Kho Spices (found at Asian markets)
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
¼ cup of flour
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
Place oven rack at the lowest position in the oven. Pre-heat oven to 300F.
Use a paper towel and dry off the cubed lamb. Lightly dust the lamb with flour. Heat up a lightly oiled cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. Place the pieces of lamb on the skillet but do not overcrowd the skillet. Each piece of lamb should have its own space. This will have to be done in batches. It took about two minutes for each piece to get a good sear and produce crusty brown edges (crusty brown edges equals serious flavor.)
Place the cooked pieces of lamb into a 6 quart Dutch oven. Sweat onions, garlic, and slices of ginger in the cast iron skillet (still on medium-high heat). You want to cook them for about 3 minutes. Then sprinkle the Bo Kho spices on top, stir and cook for only 30 seconds. You basically just want to heat up the spices but you don’t want to cook them for too long because they will burn and produce a bitter taste. Toss the mixture into the Dutch oven with the lamb.
Pour the beef broth into the cast iron skillet and turn the stove on medium-low. Add a tablespoon of flour and whisk the mixture until the flour dissolves into the broth. Add the ketchup and fish sauce. Using the whisk, scrap the bottom of the cast iron skillet to get all the flavor that cooked onto the bottom of the skillet into the broth. After a minute, pour the broth into the Dutch oven.
Place the Dutch oven on medium-low heat. Add the bay leaves, star anise, and carrots. Bend the lemongrass to so that the outer stalks are ripped a bit. This will allow the lemongrass flavor to seep into the stew. Drop the stalks into the pot. Add enough water to reach the highest point of the lamb. Mix the liquids up a little bit. Cover and bring to a simmer. Place into oven and cook for three hours.
Once the pot has come out of the oven, take the lid off and allow the stew to cool. Remove the star anise, ginger, lemongrass, and bay leaves. If the stew is not thick enough, you can also remove the pieces of lamb and use an immersion blender to blend the vegetables into the juice and simmer. I’ve done this many times and it gives the stew great body.
This stew is nothing short of wonderful. The ginger gives it this great fresh taste. The spices come through beautifully. The carrots give the stew a natural sweetness. The lamb is tender and has great flavor. This is soulful food.
There are a few ways that this stew can be served. I enjoyed it over Jasmine rice but you can also serve it with a toasted French baguette or over Chinese egg noodles. Top the stew off with sliced shallots and cilantro. If you would like a spicier stew, I would recommend adding some whole dried chilies to the pot before it goes into the oven.
Hope you enjoy it!