I was raised on comfort food like this and with winter hanging around for a while, what could be more satisfying that a steaming bowl of tender beef stew with suet dumplings?
Many people in the US won’t be familiar with suet. Traditionally it’s made from shredded beef kidney fat and is as ubiquitous in English cooking as fish ‘n chips, bangers and mash or Yorkshire pud.
Whether it’s used to make a melt-in-the-mouth pastry, the sponge for a traditional steamed pudding or dumplings to float on top of a hearty stew, the results are always miraculously light and fluffy. In this case, they’re perfect for soaking up all the wonderful beefy sauce.
There’s really no cause for alarm regarding the words ‘kidney fat’ because suet has no flavor of it’s own and is regularly used to make desserts of the comforting variety. However, there’s also a vegetarian version that yields equally light and delicate results and that’s what I used here. (Note: using other types of fat will yield a leaden lump of a dumpling by comparison).
‘Atora’ suet is a household name in the UK and if you have a local shop that sells British foods you might be lucky and find it there, otherwise the traditional variety (made with beef kidney fat) would have to be shipped to the US chilled and is ridiculously expensive; the vegetarian version isn’t.
You can buy it online here but if that sounds like too much bother, just make a big pile of mashed potatoes instead.
Although this stew takes a few hours to cook (plus the overnight marinade), it doesn’t take long to prepare. Perhaps throw in some halved button mushrooms if you have any lurking in your fridge – and like all good stews, any leftovers will taste even better the next day.
You could also use a slow cooker/crock pot rather than the oven – let it cook overnight but be sure that it’s really simmering before adding the dumplings at the end.
A GREAT BRITISH BEEF STEW with DUMPLINGS
Ingredients for the stew:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 oz (25g) of unsalted butter
1 lb 10 oz (750g) of stewing/chuck steak, cut into 2 inch (5cm) chunks
2 tablespoons of all purpose/plain flour seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
9 oz (250g) of shallots, approx the same size – peeled and left whole
6 oz (170g) of carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch chunks
5½fl oz (150ml) of good red wine
18fl oz (500ml) of organic beef stock
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Ingredients for the dumplings:
4½ oz (125g) of all purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Half a teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
2¼oz (60g) *Atora suet
Marinade the beef overnight in the red wine, thyme and bay leaf.
Preheat the oven to 325F
Remove the beef and reserve the marinade. Pat the beef dry and toss the pieces in seasoned flour. Heat the oil and butter in an ovenproof casserole/dutch oven with a lid and fry the beef chunks in small batches until they’re browned on all sides; transfer them to a plate.
Add the garlic, shallots and carrots to the same pan and saute for a couple of minutes, until the shallots start to brown.
Stir in the marinade (including the herbs) and beef stock, then add the Worcestershire sauce and finally the browned beef. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cover with a lid, transfer to the oven and cook for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Now for the dumplings:
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the suet, the mixed dried herbs and enough water a tablespoon at a time, to form a thick dough. With floured hands, roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls.
Once the stew is cooked and the meat is tender, remove the lid and carefully drop the dumplings into the simmering stew. Put the lid back on and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the dumplings are big and fluffy.
Serve right away and try not to fight over the dumplings.