THESE AREN’T YOUR TYPICAL TUESDAY NIGHT TACOS, THEY’RE LIFE-CHANGING TACOS
I’ve tried countless times re-creating many of my mother’s classic Vietnamese dishes with fail. The magic in her cooking is the lack of measuring spoons and kitchen scales, only intuition. This leaves me with less than a general idea for her recipes, all too difficult to replicate and only craving answers to a plethora of questions. Naturally, I took to crafting my own versions of my mom’s Pho, Bun Bo Hue, Banh Mi, and the made-for-cold weather favorite, Bo Kho.
If you aren’t familiar with Bo Kho, it’s the Vietnamese equivalent of Yankee Pot Roast. Fragrant with lemongrass, warm spices, in a rich and savory broth, the fork tender meat is worth the hours of braising on the stove. Although I love the slow-and-low time is takes to build flavors, I opted for one of the best food hacks in my kitchen… The Millennial’s version of grandma’s crockpot, my trusted Instant Pot. Now, if my mother knew about this, she would call this an egregious crime. Little does she know, it’s one of the best dishes I’ve made all year.
You’re probably wondering what does Vietnamese beef stew have to do with tacos? For several months, I was craving Birria Tacos on the daily since we attended a small dinner party during the pandemic. The host cranked out killer Birria Tacos with an Adobo Filipino flair. I was truly inspired. The ruby-tinted oil floating on top of the caldo dipping broth instantly reminded me of Bun Bo Hue and Bo Kho. So what if we turned the beloved soup and stew into amazing fusion tacos? It was a no brainer. I promise you, this recipe will rock your World. The Bo Kho Birria meat and broth can easily be made a day ahead on a Monday just in time to whip up a great Taco Tuesday night dinner for the fam.
Cut-of-meat selection is important when making any authentic Vietnamese dish. I’ll often use clod, the lesser popular and once affordable collagen-rich chuck primal, typical in Bo Kho. For this recipe, I’m opting for cuts that produce longer strands when pulled, similar to Ropa Vieja, and giving you all the Birria vibes. I found chuck roast, brisket, top round, and even flank work best. Don’t be afraid to salt the meat ahead of time, it will only add to the flavor. For the Bo Kho seasoning, if it’s not available at your Asian grocer a simple blend of equal parts ground paprika, chili, fennel, onion, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and clove will do the trick.
Bo Kho Birria Tacos
Fragrant lemongrass, five spice, and fork tender beef transform everyday Birria Tacos into life-changing tacos in this Viet-Mex mashup.
If beef portions are larger than 8 inches, cut into smaller pieces. Season with first 2 tbls of salt. Set aside. Prepare all the vegetables according to the recipe.
Roast dried peppers over direct flame on a gas stove until peppers are just blistered and browned, about 30-45 seconds each side with continuous flipping. Use a toaster oven, oven set to broil, or cast iron pan to roast the peppers if flame is not available. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chiles should feel slightly crisp. Remove the stems and seeds. Set aside.
Set Instant Pot to saute mode for 15 mins. Add oil, once the Hot indicator comes on, add the beef. Sear the meat for 2-5 mins each side. Add the spices, bay leaf, onion, and garlic. Allow to cook until saute mode finishes.
Add the remaining ingredients and chiles. Set the Instant Pot to High Pressure Cook for 45 mins. Close vent.
*Cooking times will vary based on the size and grade of the meat.*
Once cooking phase is complete, force vent. Remove lid and test meat for doneness. Using a fork, try to pull apart the thickest part of the beef. If you feel resistance, replace the lid and pressure cook for an additional 20-30 mins, depending on how much resistance you feel in the meat. Repeat until beef is fork tender.
Remove the beef from the broth and set aside, covered. Skim the fat from the top of the broth and reserve for the final taco preparation. It's important you don't throw this liquid gold away.
Remove the inner pot from the Instant Pot Cooker. Using a large strainer or colander fitted to a large heat proof container, strain broth reserving the liquid. Check for any remaining pieces of meat, remove and add to the beef set aside.
*Optional step: Remove the chiles from the strainer and add to a blender along with 1 cup of the broth. Blend until smooth, return back to the broth. Chill broth over night if making a day ahead, otherwise keep the broth warm over the stove or in the Instant Pot.
For the Taco Prep
Chop the cilantro, red and green onion, combine together. Trim ends of the limes and cut into wedges. Set aside.
Warm the meat if cooled. In a large bowl, pull and shred the meat using two forks. Pour a small amount of hot broth over the meat to hydrate the meat just slightly if the shreds feel dry. Set aside.
Warm the skimmed oil. Brush both sides of desired amount of tortillas with the oil, that's what will give the tacos their signature color. Set aside.
Heat a cast iron plancha or non-stick pan over medium flame. Brush with a small amount of the oil. Once hot, place desired amount of tortillas onto the hot plancha/pan 1/2 inch apart leaving room to flip them with a turning spatula.
Sprinkle desired amount of cheese onto one half of each tortilla, approx 2 tbls. I like mine extra cheesy. Place desired amount of shredded meat on the other side, I like a hearty amount but just enough to cover without spilling out. Griddle for about 1-2 mins or until cheese begins to melt. Fold the cheese side onto the meat side and give it a light press. Remove and repeat until desired amount of tacos are made.
Portion the hot broth into small soup bowls for each person. Serve tacos immediately along with cilantro, onions, and limes. Flip, fill with your favorite toppings, and dip away.