Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Suet - Don't waste it on the birds

There seems to be a lot of confusion about suet. That's because most people no longer use it in their kitchen having relegated it to the bird feeder. This post is to explain suet and tempt you to bring it back into your kitchen. It is a wonderful fat to cook with.
Suet is the fat from around an animal's kidneys, and although all animals have it in varying amounts, I was just given some venison suet, in recipes it means beef or veal suet. Pork suet is known as leaf lard. As it is from deep inside the body it is a very firm fat with a high melting point. It is white and usually comes in lumps, covered in a papery membrane. Sometimes even butchers are confused and think suet is any type of beef fat. It isn't it must be the fat fat encases the kidneys. Anybody familiar with my book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipeswill know how much I love suet. As I have been encouraging people to try it, I want to make sure they buy the right fat. My friend, fellow Aussie and butcher, Stephen Alexander, owner of Cumbrae's Meats, has promised me he is going to stock it, already grated, in his store freezer starting next week. This is good news for people living in the Toronto area but for the rest of you I am going to show you how to handle suet with an illustrated simple step-by step.

The first photo is a piece of suet.

The first step is to pull off the papery membrane and cut away any remaining traces of kidney. Now cut the suet into pieces that will fit down the feed tube of your food processor. Place them and the grating blade from the processor in the freezer and put the processor bowl in the refrigerator.

The suet is easier to grate when it is very cold, remember its fat. Dust the grating blade with flour, and then grate the suet. You will have to stop now and again to remove the pieces that smear together rather than grate. Take this opportunity to clean the blade and dust it with flour again. You can see the pieces of suet that didn't grate sitting on the blade. You can either rechill these pieces or chop them by hand. There is no denying this is a messy business, which is why I always do a large batch at once.

The next photo shows you how finely the suet is grated. It must be finely grated so it can simply be stirred into the flour when you use it. The grated suet can now be stored in the freezer for several months. I put mine into freezer bags and use it straight from the freezer.
Of course you can simply chop suet and render it and then use it to cook some of the tastiest French fries you'll ever eat.

Now here is what I suggest you make first with your suet, unless you want to get a head start on mincemeat for this Christmas, which is a good idea. These are suet scones or tea biscuits depending where you live. They were a revelation to me. I made scones with every sort of animal fat when I was working on my book. I still love scones made with butter but these suet ones are light and rich, all at once.

If you have a copy of FAT the recipe is on page 213, it is the topping for the Fruit Cobbler. For those of you still saving up to buy the book here the recipe -

2 cups / 8 3/4 ounces / 250 g flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups / 4 ounces / 115 g finely grated suet
1 egg
1/2 cup / 125 ml whole milk
1 tablespoon whipping (35 percent fat) cream
1 1/2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C.

Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and stir in the suet. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk and add to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead gently, just
until the dough comes together.
Pat the dough out to a thickness of 1/2 inch / 1 cm and, using a biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Press any leftover dough together and cut again. Arrange the rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream and sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top. Bake for about 12 minutes or until dark golden. Note, they cook quicker when they are not on top of the fruit. You can make them any size you want - I prefer 3 inch/7.5 cm.

Suet is a very English fat and not always appreciated by other cultures. Read this amusing post by David Lebovitz. It is interesting that an American pastry chef had so little experience of suet.
I hope he tries my scones.


Anonymous said...


Finally a site that identifies suet for making traditional mincemeat with venison. I recently lost my grandmother and she gave me her recipe for mince pie, which unfortunately got misplaced during a move. I have been searching high and low for a similar recipe. I know that it called for suet but in her recipe she made the suet. At least you have identified how suet is used especially in the English culture, now I want to find a recipe on how to make suet from scratch.

Thank you so much for this blog.

Laurel Quinones

Jennifer said...

Glad to be of help Laurel -
You don't make suet from scratch, you buy it from a good butcher and prepare it yourself.
Don't buy pre-grated suet from the supermarket or the vegetarian!!!! one.

Anonymous said...


I am confused by the measurement:
2 cups / 8 3/4 ounces / 250 g flour
a cup = 8 ounces, so is it just 2 cups or exactly how much flour in cups and ounces?

my email is:

Please let me know. I want to follow the recipe. Thank you. (I could not post as a URL for some reason, so that's why I chose anonymous)

Jennifer said...


The first measurement is US volume/cup measurement, the second is Imperial weight measurement and the third is metric weight measurement.

Hope that helps,


Anonymous said...

THANKYOU so much for this help, I have just got a nice lump of suet from the butcher so I can make some dumplings. Now I know what to do with it. Being a Brit living in the USA I just couldn't get my atora. Very excited to try the real thing!

Jennifer said...

I'm glad to be of help. I read that the production of Atora was moved from the UK to the US!!!
Happy holidays

bookwench said...

Hi! I know this is an old post, and I hope you stil check it. I'm trying to make mince pies for christmas, and have a small point of curiosity. The butcher's only had pork fat, and all the recipes either call for beef suet or just plain suet. Will there be any difference in using the pork fat from the beef? I can try and find some elsewhere, the mince isn't anywhere near ready to go - I just made the candied peel today.

Jennifer said...

Sorry for the delay bookwench, busy promoting Odd Bits.
Suet is the fat from around the veal or cow's kidneys, so suet by definition is beef suet.Pork fat is less saturated than beef fat. I guess you could substitute pork kidney fat (leaf lard) for the suet but not pork back fat. Keep trying as any butcher who sells veal kidneys should be able to get you suet. Don't by the prepacked suet that is available in some places in the supermarket it is not the same thing.

Diogenes Montesa Baena said...

Thanks for a very informative blog post. I made a suet mixture for the birds using bacon grease. Before I had a chance to put it out, a friend said that it may be too salty for the birds. So I realize that I really didn't know anything about suets. I looked it up and your post is super helpful!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer - I bought suet at the grocery store and was hoping to combine it with canola oil to cook French fries - but this suet is mixed with flour and so now I am thinking this most likely will not work. - any suggestions. - thanks Ken

Jennifer said...

You're right it won't work like that. I assume it's grated. Try making suet scones, dumplings or pastry. It is always best to buy suet in the piece if you can.

Wendy C. said...

wendy if suet comes from around the kidney of beef where does dripping come from I thought you could use dripping in place of suet am I wrong?

Wendy C. said...

what is the difference between suet and dripping I thought you could use one in place of the other am I wrong?

Jennifer said...

Hi Wendy, dripping is the fat that drips off a roast of beef. It is usually back fat and so is softer than suet. Both fats are good for cooking and frying, but they are not always interchangeable. For baking and mincemeat suet is the better choice.

Kevin Potts said...

Thank you for putting the US as number one. Finally someone gets it. I am totally just kidding, thank you for the recipe and procedure for grating suet. I look forward to trying both.

TAD said...

I don't like fat on my beef when I'm eating it, but I knew it could be used somehow, so I've been saving it in the freezer. I thought that any ol' beef fat was suet and so I've been looking up what to do with suet, but now you tell me (and the dictionaries agree) that suet is particular... so does this mean that all my beef fat is useless? What's the difference in usage/usability?

Jennifer said...

Sorry you don't like beef fat, but least you didn't throw it out. Your beef fat is very useful. Render it, I've posted how to this, and use it for cooking. You won't be able to bake with it like suet, but it will add lots of flavour to your cooking.

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