Suet: Putting the “Eye” in Dumpl-i-ngs

File this one under “utter fabrications told to you by older sibling and believed for too long”. I must have been very young when my sister (15 months my senior) informed me that I should be wary of eating my grandmother’s suet dumplings because suet was the gooey material supporting bovine eye-balls. Quite where she got this idea from, I’m not sure, but she seemed to believe it and, as a credulous juvenile, so did I. And so convinced was I, that until some brief research yesterday proved her to have been telling porkies, I had held it up as truth for the intervening 25 years or so. Why I found her a credible source about this I have no idea – she’s been a vegetarian since the age of 12, and an extremely picky eater before that.

Suet is, in fact, raw beef fat that is typically from around the animals’ kidney or loin area, and while that may not be a much less appetizing prospect than eye-socket, it certainly helps explain why it should be used in the preparation of a traditional British dumpling. It’s basically a firm kind of lard that melts perfectly at the relatively low temperatures found on top of a stew, which is where a British dumpling is typically found.

American readers will be forgiven for commonly associating dumplings only with Chinese restaurants, or at the outside, with Russian or Polish cuisine, but in the northern reaches of Britain, suet dumplings are, or, at least, were a frequent sight floating on top of a thick stew during the winter. And indeed, suet dumplings do look and taste a bit like their Chinese counterparts – slightly chewy and definitely filling, except that they’re much less uniform in shape and are not wrapped in pasta, the filling is the dumpling, basically. Suet as an ingredient though, is not confined to the creation of floaters, it’s also used in the recipe for other traditional British favorites as spotted dick, pastry, Christmas pudding and mincemeat, demonstrating remarkable flexibility as a fat and flavoring.

Suet is also commonly used throughout the Caribbean in the preparation of patties, particularly in Jamaica, and I think that this is the reason for it appearing on the shelves of our local supermarket, as not far from us resides a large and vibrant Caribbean community.

We’ll definitely be exploring some patty recipes with suet in the near future (a $2 package goes a long way), but for the time being, please consider searching out some suet and making yourself a good old British dinner this weekend. It’s on oft-repeated maxim among survival experts that icy temperatures can best be braved when you’re core is fired with plenty of firm beef fat. I’m not kidding.

Chicken & Root Vegetable Stew with Herbed Suet Dumplings (serves 4-6)


  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts, or (preferably) 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow onion, roughly sliced
  • 1 large leek, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 3 large carrots, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 parsnips, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into eighths, or 2 inch chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni (store bought, or wrap parsley, bay and thyme in the green part of a leek and secure with string)
  • pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • 2oz (50 grams) dry white wine
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 2-3 pints (1-1. liters) chicken stock (depending on size of pot you’re using)
  • 2oz (50 grams) plain flour
  • salt and black pepper

For the dumplings:

  • 4.5oz (125 grams) plus a bit more, plain flour
  • 2oz (50 grams) grated or very finely diced fresh suet
  • 2-3oz (50-75 grams) water
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley


  • Heat oil in large heavy casserole or dutch oven to medium.
  • Dust chicken pieces with flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in pot. Allow to brown well on all sides – about ten minutes.
  • Remove chicken and add onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and leeks. Sweat until lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and hot pepper, and cook for a further 2 minutes, or until garlic softens and perfumes room.
  • Deglaze pot with white wine or 2oz of the stock. Make sure all the caramelized chicken juices come up before adding remaining stock (or enough to cover contents) and bouquet garni.
  • Cover and allow to simmer for around 40 minutes.
  • In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, chopped suet and parsley. Mix well.
  • Add half of your water and stir. If dumpling mixture is too dry add more, but you’re looking for a dough that’s nicely sticky and elastic, not too damp.
  • Then using two tablespoons, make quennelles with dough and removing the pot lid, gently plop them into simmering stew. Alternatively, flour your hands well and make squash-ball size dumplings and drop them in.
  • Then, re-cover stew and allow to simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve in a bowl and allow to stick to your ribs. Repeat with second helpings.

27 thoughts on “Suet: Putting the “Eye” in Dumpl-i-ngs

  1. I confess I am a fan of Suet. I loaded up on Atora and put it in the freezer. Very hard to find Suet here. I didnt realize they used it in the meat patties. need to make me some .Great hearty dish for this time.

  2. I still see suet for sale at markets and I wasn’t sure what kind of people bought it – until now! lol

    I have no probs trying this stew or some suet…just ply me with beer.

  3. Peter – since you know what sort of people we are, I wonder how that makes you feel about suet buyers…? I washed this down with a couple pints of beamish irish stout. a combo i would recommend.
    Coco – there’s no shame in loving suet, right? right…?!
    LoriL – I feel like there’s some strange telepathy going on here. first the souffles, now the dumplings… Next, I’m pulling on my (very distant) paternal Ukrainian Jewish heritage and bustin’ out some matzoh balls!
    Alexandra – cooking with suet, it’s the past and the future. enjoy and thanks for visiting!

  4. Ooh, I love dumplings! And I don’t have them nearly enough.

    This reminds me a little of the Chinese Har Gau Dumplings — the filling is shrimp with cubes of lard folded in… one doesn’t necessarily realize they’re eating lard, but it’s oh so good!

  5. I love dumplings, too. After making chicken and biscuits until my family yelled “when” I will now revert to chicken and dumplings. Or chicken dumplings! I love Matzoh Balls too! Talk about comfort food!

  6. I have to say…my bloke loves my dumplings LOL. No, really! I use the shredded packaged type of suet just because it’s convenient and I can put it away until next time.(don’t shoot me, please)
    I’m proud to say I do spotted dick and jam roly poly too! Yes, I am learning to cook like an English mum, Jonny!
    Your stew looks..well, just let me cheer..brava! Good job there, my friend.

  7. All I knew about suet was that it was the bonding material in the balls of birdseed my mom and I would put in the woods at the winter feeder. I’d arm-wrestle a chickadee anyday for a taste of your dumplings.

  8. Sara – the key here is using a solid fat, so you might try butter as long as it’s very cold when you mix it, but I would lean towards using a solid animal fat like lard if you can’t find suet. Suet is often sold dried and shredded in packages rather than fresh, so the baking isle of your market might be a good place to look. And sometimes suet is sold as “beef tallow”, but you should be sure that if you find this that it’s solid rather than pre-rendered.

    Maryann – bravo to you for the spotted dick and roly poly, but be careful, your husband’ll have you watching Eastenders next, and that would be step too far!

    lifeinrecipes – you’re right, suet is often included in winter birdseed because it’s so high in calories, but trust me, it’s great for humans in cold weather too. just go easy on the chickadees!

  9. My grandfather used to make dumplings like these when he made beef stew. I never liked his beef stew much because I’ve never liked vegetables cooked together to a mush on one pot. I’d eat the dumplings off the stew. (Man I’m glad I am not my own mother, because I would drive myself crazy with my nutty food preferences).

    I think Grandpa cheated and used Bisquick though. They always had the dumpling recipe on the box. Do they still do that?

  10. A timely post indeed. I was talking to my brother the other day about the merits of suet and bemoaning the lack of it in Rome.
    I really like suet dumplings, savory or sweet (light currant dumplings are my nostalgic favorite). I love a good suet pie crust and christmas mincemeat is just not the same without it.
    Have you ever read Eliza Actons Modern Food for private families – suet is a key player.

  11. Ahh, dumplings, a british staple! And so fantastic. My other half makes great dumplings but yours look pretty damn fine too! Probably the ultimate winter comfort stodge. I feel cravings coming on 🙂

  12. I’m happy to learn new things from you chicos! Never heard about suet in a recipe before… I knew it was used to make candles… I’ll have to ask my butcher, now I’m curious :D.

    I do use lard to cook. Hopefully will be posting about the pigglet soon (there is lard involved, that’s why I thought about it)

  13. Suet: not just for chickadee feeders anymore!

    Kidding aside, I love animal fat (have a giant sack of leaf lard in my freezer right now, and a jar of chicken fat in the fridge) and dumplings are only really edible when using it. Chicken and dumplings is my Achilles’ heel.

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