Khor Ko: Cambodian Caramelized Beef Stew


Intensely rich, savoury, and a little sweet, khor ko is one Cambodian dish that translates well anywhere. Khmer kitchens have several types of khor, or caramelised stews. Khor ko is the first khor I learned to make. Trust me...and trust the process. There will be a few moments where things may appear to be horribly wrong. You'll wonder, should burnt sugar and shrimp paste really be in the same pot? Don't fret, because it will quickly give way to something miraculous. This is best as a slow-cooked recipe, so try it on a day when you can plan ahead.

Traditionally khor ko is made on the sweet side. We agree with Cambodia's celebrity chef, Chef Nak, in her inaugural cookbook Nhum and make it slightly on the savoury side. Chef Nak's recipe is the basis for ours but we've made adjustments to suit our tastes and Tonga's own experience as a Cambodian eating this dish in Phnom Penh. The result is something incredibly more-ish that you'll be eating until the last spoonful and then licking the bowl. Our favourite way to eat it is with a crunchy French baguette, but eating it on day 2 or 3 with rice noodles or steamed rice is just as good.

Kitchen Notes:

  • The end result should be a slightly reduced and therefore thicker liquid, but it's still going to be thin compared to many western-style stews.
  • As with everything, make sure to taste along the way and adjust for salt & sugar. This stew should have an obvious sweet element.
  • Bigger carrots are better. They cook more slowly, soak up more flavour, and don't fall apart.
  • As with other stews, khor ko does very well as leftovers even 2-3 days after cooking.

Khor Ko - Cambodian Caramelized Beef Stew

Aromatic, savoury beef stew with incredible flavours
Prep Time30 minutes
Active Time3 hours 30 minutes
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Cambodian
Keyword: beef stew, Cambodian food, dinner recipe
Yield: 6 serves
Author: Emily Troeung


  • 1 to 1.5 kg beef that needs slow cooked, like chuck or "stew" beef
  • 6 stalks lemongrass
  • 5 slices galangal
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 10 large leaves kaffir lime
  • 5 bulbs shallots preferred but small onions ok
  • 2.5 tablespoons palm sugar
  • .5 tablespoon salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • .5 tablespoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 5 large carrots
  • 1 bulb white or yellow onion, for serving
  • 1 handful coriander/cilantro, sawtooth preferred, for serving
  • 1 large French baguette for serving


  • Chop beef into bite-sized chunks.
  • Wash and smash lemongrass and galangal. Use mortar and pestle...or a heavy rolling pin.
  • Wash lime leaves. Slightly tear to release the fragrance.
  • Peel and smash garlic and shallot/small onions.
  • Peel large carrots and cut in half so you have two shorter pieces.
  • Peel the yellow or white onion for serving, thinly slice and soak in cold water for 5 minutes before draining.
  • Wash and chop coriander/cilantro. If using sawtooth slice thinly.
  • Using a large, heavy pot on low heat, add the palm sugar. Occasionally stir gently until it gets dark or gives off smoke. You'll be able to smell a sort of "bitter caramel" scent.
  • Stir in shrimp paste until it's well combined with the palm sugar. The smell will be acrid, but that's nothing to worry about. When you notice the paste beginning to dry as you stir, quickly go on to the next step.
  • Add lime leaves, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, shallots/small onions, salt, fish sauce, star anise, tomato paste. Make sure to stir from the bottom up so that the shrimp paste-palm sugar mixture will not burn. Cook until you begin to smell the new fragrances combining, 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Add the diced beef and stir well again from the bottom up. Increase the heat to a low-medium.
  • The beef will begin to release some juices. After about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, add 6 cups of hot or just-boiled water.
  • Allow it to come to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest setting and place the lid on top. Cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If the beef is tender but not yet falling apart, cook for a further 15-25 minutes. The liquid should be reducing and getting slightly thicker.
  • Place peeled carrots on top and do not stir. Replace the lid. Turn heat slightly up, and cook for 40-45 more minutes. You want the carrots to be tender but not falling apart.
  • Turn off the heat and leave the khor ko to rest while you place the baguette in the oven to warm up.
  • Serve with coriander, onion slices, and baguette. Yum!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating