Suet is the essential fat in many British puddings, both sweet and savoury, as well as stuffings and dumplings, mincemeat at Christmastime and – of – course suet pastry. It makes some of my most favourite British foods. It’s role is to enrich and lubricate mixtures, producing a good crust in steamed suet puddings.
Suet is the compacted, flaky and fairly homogenous fat that is found around animals’ kidneys, protecting them from damage. Here’s a very quick little guide to buying and using it in recipes.
Flaky fresh beef suet
Don’t be put off by suet – I served up Jam Roly-Poly to a group of 18 American undergraduates recently, and they’d never heard of a suet pudding before. They all came back for seconds!
Several recipes already on the blog use suet:
- The forcemeat balls in Mock Turtle Soup
- The dumplings in Brown Windsor Soup
- Spotted Dick
- Jam Roly-Poly
- Jane Grigson’s Orange Mincemeat
- Mrs Beeton’s Mincemeat
Fresh suet can be bought from your local butcher at a very low price. Most commonly available is beef suet and it can be used in any recipe in the book. You can also buy lamb and pork suet – and sometime venison – which are all great when using the meat of the same animal in the filling (e.g. Lamb & Mint Suet Pudding). Pork suet is sometimes called flead or flare fat. Sweet suet puddings, however, require beef because it is flavourless, whilst lamb is distinctly lamby; not great in a Jam Roly-Poly.
Fresh suet can be minced at home or by your butcher or can be grated. I prefer to do the latter, as it’s quick and easy. You must avoid food processors however, as you end up with a paste. Grater or mincer, you will need to remove any membranes and blood vessels – much easier to do as you grate, hence why it’s my preferred method.
Freshly-grated beef suet
I find it best to buy enough suet for several puddings, grate it and then freeze it. Fresh suet can be kept frozen for up to 3 months.
Although not as good as fresh, packet suet bought from a supermarket is a perfectly good product and store cupboard standby. Atora is the iconic brand producing a shredded beef suet as well as a vegan alternative; these vegetable suets are made from palm oil and are therefore somewhat environmentally unfriendly. However, Suma produce one that is made from sustainably sourced palm oil, so keep a look out for that in shops.
Preparatory suet can be switched weight-for-weight in any recipe unless otherwise indicated.
And that’s my very quick beginners’ guide to suet, have a go at cooking with it, you won’t be disappointed.
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13 responses to “Suet – A Beginners’ Guide”
Thank you for this. I bought a pound of suet a few months ago to make your jam roly poly and still haven’t done so. But at least now I know more about how to use it! Thanks again.
Well hold back! I’m going to rewrite that post with a new recipe and pics this weekend… glad it’s a useful post!
I’ve just updated the roly poly post with improved method and photos! https://britishfoodhistory.com/2011/11/26/jam-roly-poly/
I always wonder with Atora, given that it’s 10% flour for manufacturing purposes, would adjusting the proportions accordingly when making the pastry make any difference. Can’t do any harm, I guess.
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I dont think it makes any difference really and use it weight for weight and things always turn out fine
Another classic post!
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Neil, I’m not averse to using beef suet, but I have to go out of my way for it and so usually end up substituting butter because there aren’t many oils or oil products I use, other than extra virgin olive oil. So I appreciate your suggestion of buying enough for several puddings, grating it all at once and the freezing it. My freezer is my best friend! (But NOT for store-bought packaged frozen “convenience” foods, I should add.)
Yes always freeze a big batch. ‘Suet’ pastry with butter just isn’t right. Which is odd, as I pile the butter into almost everything else!
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