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
1/2 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.