The point of a stew, it should go without saying, is its flavour rather than its form. So while the crunchy salad strips of carrot, scallion and bell pepper, do bring colour and beauty to the otherwise brown study, their texture and Asian-flavoured bite provide the perfect partner for the rich aromatic spiciness of the soft-braised stew beneath.
Cooking the shin on the bone gives me a certain primitive pleasure, and the meat even more melting tenderness, but you can buy cubed beef shank off the bone (or other stew meat, if you must), in which case, you won't need as much in weight.
Along with the stew and its crunchy, hot and sour topping, I serve gingery mashed parsnip and potatoes, the ginger offering a muted echo of the South East Asian tones. While a plain bowl of rice would be a fine alternative, know that the aromatic mash makes for fantastic, fiery potato patties the day or so after.
For the beef: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Quarter and peel the onions, and peel and roughly slice the ginger and put into the processor with the peeled garlic cloves and coriander. Blitz until finely chopped, then heat the oil in a large Dutch oven and fry this mixture gently, until soft and beginning to catch in the pan; this should take about 10 minutes, over medium heat and with regular stirring.
Pour in the Chinese wine (or sherry) and let it bubble up. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, broth, oyster sauce and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then drop in the cinnamon sticks and star anise. Add the pieces of beef shank and let everything come up to a bubble again, then clamp on a lid and put into the oven for 2 hours (regular stew steak may take longer).
Take the Dutch oven carefully out of the oven and, using a perforated spoon, remove the beef to an ovenproof dish, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm in the oven, while you vigorously boil the sauce in the Dutch oven on the stove, without a lid, until it has reduced by about half.
For the salad: Peel the carrots, cut into long slices, and then julienne them (i.e. cut into matchstick-like strips). Trim and halve the scallions and then julienne as well. Seed the chillies and also cut into juliennes, and finely chop the cilantro. Combine all the julienned vegetables and the chopped cilantro in a bowl. In another bowl mix the lime juice, fish sauce and superfine sugar, and dress the vegetables with this.
For serving: Arrange the beef on a serving platter and pour over the reduced sauce over the meat, then dress the top with the hot and sour shredded salad. If you are using cubes of stew meat, rather than slices of shank, you'd probably do better to use a deeper dish.
Make Ahead Note: Cook the beef for 1 3/4 hours then transfer to a bowl to cool. Cover, refrigerate and store in refrigerator for up to 2 days. When ready to use, return the beef to the Dutch oven and heat gently until sauce is just boiling. Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes, or until the beef is piping hot. Transfer meat to an ovenproof dish and finish sauce as directed.
Freeze Note: Cook and cool as above then freeze for up to 3 months in airtight container. Thaw overnight in fridge and reheat and finish as above.
From NIGELLA KITCHEN by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 Nigella Lawson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.