Hue’s ancient beef stew
Besides Hue beef noodle soup, there are many other delicious dishes made from beef listed in the vast treasure of Hue's traditional cuisine.
One of the most common recipes is “bo ham” or beef stew. People from the South call it “bo kho” instead of “bo ham”. There are dozens of recipes for beef stew created by Southern people including beef stew dressed in ginger juice, beef stewed with green pepper, ox tail stewed with tomato, beef stewed with kimchi, beef stewed with pumpkin, beef stewed with coconut water, etc. These recipes use a variety of spices such as onions, garlic, minced ginger, lemon grass, citronella, cinnamon; and beef is often stewed with carrots, white radish, potatoes, making a flavorful/full-flavored beef broth.
In the north, red wine beef stew and ginger beef stew are tasty dishes to offer in rainy or cold days. Beef stew of people from the north, the central region or the south are distinct mainly because of the used spices. Beef stew with ginger juice is often cooked with black pepper and crushed fresh ginger root. The stewed beef is often thinly sliced and dipped with garlic ginger fish sauce when served. A recipe of beef stewed with treacle from the central Vietnamese often stirs up the spicy taste of ginger, chili, and the tender, sweet taste of beef shank, mixed with the luscious taste of treacle.
In addition to the famous beef noodle soup, beef congee, and beef stew are other dishes making it to the pride of Hue people. The beef stew here must be cooked in the Hue’s ancient style. This recipe was used by mothers of the old days when they went to the market still using a Vietnamese yoke (a bamboo pole used to carry two baskets at its ends). With this recipe, as many Hue dishes were prepared these days, the beef is stewed in layers without adding too many ingredients. Literally, this beef stew is simply beef that is stewed, bringing an authentic flavor of Hue cuisine in every single bite of the beef, which otherwise will disappear when it is cooked with either the South or the North style. In the rainy cold days of the late autumn back then, my mom often prepared stew beef - a stew’s taste that is hard to describe exactly, and yet always stays in my memory.
Then how is the Hue ancient beef stew prepared? My mom passed away quite a while ago, so I asked some older people about this, but it was just a half-remembered recipe. Fortunately, I found a book called "the art of Hue cuisine" by Hoang Thi Kim Cuc, in which many chapters were devoted to menus for late autumn days. The first menu includes: a soup with “tram” mushroom (a type of Tylopilus felleus), stir-fried beansprouts, beef stew, and “che bong cau” (a traditional Vietnamese thick, sweet dessert soup cooked with green beans). According to the book, the recipe for Hue’s ancient beef stew is as follows: "trim the beef of any gristle and cut it into medium-sized slices, then pound the meat with a knife blade to tenderize it. Thinly slice some onion or shallot. Next, heat the oil in a pot, arrange the meat in a single layer, coat the beef with some rice flour, and season with a layer of onions, pepper, and salt. Add boiling water into the meat, and put some slices of potatoes, and carrots on top. Place the lid on and bring to a boil. Simmer the sauce for a few hours until thickened, and the meat is fork-tender. Add some tablespoons of white or red wine to have more flavors." Serve the cooked beef stew on a plate, sprinkle some pepper, and decorate it with a red chili. Of course, some basil is a must to add in the stew.
This beef stew, indeed, awakens our senses to enjoy the delicious taste of meat and spices. All flavors delight our tongue, and the pleasantly aromatic scent of herbs and beef broth satisfies our nose. This stew is a combination of beef fat, tastes of rice, and a mixed herbs and spices simmered for hours, creating an authentic beef stew that is unique to Hue.
An old friend of mine wrote on Facebook: "I tried cooking Hue’s ancient beef stew. The more I enjoyed it, the more I could feel its familiarity and yet strange deliciousness. The strangely delicious flavor it brings after a bite makes you feel like you are back home - Hue of the old days... "
By VU CAM