Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Lovely little dumplings

“What is suet?” asked number one daughter, as I scanned the shelves looking for the red, yellow and blue of the Atora flag.

“Suet is the raw, hard fat found around the animal’s loins and kidneys,” I thought to myself but didn’t say as much. Sarah hadn’t had dumplings these past few years so I didn’t want any preconceptions to spoil her appetite, so to speak. Instead, I replied, “It’s the secret ingredient.”

“But what is it, actually?” she persisted.

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Cunningly, I ignored her.

“What is it?”

I ignored her still, continuing my cyborg-like analysis of the supermarket shelves. But I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t there. The Atora box of suet normally stands out like an imperialist flag planted on the beach of a south seas island.

“What is it?” she came again with a tug, tug, tug on my shirt sleeve. “What is it?”

“It’s fat!”

“Are you making that up, Daddy” she asked quizzically.

“No, it really is fat. It’s like butter, only not and it’ll make the dumplings taste like pure joy.”

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She eyed me sceptically. “Just you wait and see,” I said before finally giving up the Atora chase.

Just to be sure I hadn’t inadvertently been taking stupid pills, I asked a nearby shop assistant as to the suet wherewithal but he eventually confirmed there was none to be had.

“Ffffff-intona!” I just-about managed. “Of course there isn’t!”

“Right, we’ll try M&S,” I addressed the clan. “It’s a haven for would-be bakers. They’re bound to have suet.” And off we went.

“What’s a haven?” asked number two daughter.

“A place of safety or a refuge.”

“What’s a refuge?”

“FFffffff…”

A key ingredient for the fabrication of my mother’s and thus my own dumplings, suet is the difference between great dumplings and ones that shouldn’t be made at all. As per the picture above, I can confirm that the resultant dumplings made from the suet discovered at M&S were wondrous creations, crispy on top, cloud-like inside, and sodden with gravy below – the kind of food I could eat to a band playing, if truth be known.

Alas, as is the way with key ingredients when it comes to traditional food, suet should be used sparingly. In comparative terms, it has a higher fat content than pure butter and even contains more saturated fat. Thus, if you’re concerned about your waistline then you should probably stop reading.

As an extension of last week’s first autumnal soup of the year, this week I went into full-blown autumnal offensive mode. Me and my soul required stodge and plenty of it and as I was driving to work on Friday, the fingers a digitary rictus of frozen sinews, skin and blood, I decided dumplings would be necessary fayre to stave off winter’s arrival for another while at least.

A component of other such stick-to-your-ribs stodgers like Christmas pudding or mincemeat or spotted dick, suet is only ever used chez moi in my dumplings. I reserve the right to shun something like spotted dick because it sounds like a joke dish which isn’t fit for human consumption. TBH, I’ve never tried it, so I could be wrong. There’s a first time for everything.

Fastforwarding from the purchase of the M&S suet to the creation of the dumplings on Sunday, as is usually the case when something comes out of the oven, I am duty-bound to taste, so as to make sure that this at least, is fit for human (and little human) consumption. I needn’t have worried though. Although the taster was such an unqualified joy, it required the consumption of a whole dumpling. Good thing I took the pic pre-taste.

The stew which you can see in and around the dumplings in the picture is a basic root vegetable stew, with added barley in a thick gravy. As per hankering, I didn’t fancy meat and in fact all I wanted were dumplings in gravy, so the veg is there as a nutritional after thought.

In fact, you could add these dumplings to just about any stew, chicken, veg, pork or beef; I used them once to top a Guinness and beef stew and they worked a real treat. I even topped a shepherd’s pie with them once and it turned out epic. All that is required is that they’re dropped atop the stew or casserole 20 minutes before the dish is due to be finished and they always come up trumps.

Crispy on top yet fluffy within, the undercarriage sodden in juices, they can be flavoured with herbs but personally, I like mine seasoned and with a pinch or two of parsley. They don’t really need anything else and if it’s not broke, then don’t ruddy break it.

For me they are also the quintessential sign of impending bad weather and whilst I don’t want to sound like a harbinger of doom, I wouldn’t waste any more time before firing a batch up. You’ll love them.

INGREDIENTS
120g of plain flour
1 tsp of baking powder
pinches of salt and white pepper
60g of suet
big pinch of parsley, the dried kind is fine
water
yet more flour for shaping

THE PLAN
Sift the flour and the baking powder and the seasoning into a bowl, then add the suet and parsley and mix through.

Now, ordinarily, I would despair if a recipe suggested that you add enough water until the mixture makes a dough but in this case it couldn’t be easier.

What I do is get the tap trickling and as I’m slowly adding water and stirring the mixture, as soon as it starts to come together, stop adding water. Easy. I would hazard a guess that it’s only a few tablespoons’ worth – six or seven or eight.

You want a thick dough and as is the case with scones, it’s important not to handle it too much or the dough will be dense. Once the dough is formed, a very quick knead is all it needs. Once, twice – it’s done. And then comes the fun part.

With floured hands, take handfuls of the dough – golf ball size – roll into golf balls and place onto the top of your stew of choice. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Retire the stew plus dumplings to the oven and cook at 170˚C for 20 minutes, after which time the heat will have worked its magic.

If you put a lid on the stew, the dumplings will be soft all the way through. No lid, crispy on top.

These are best straight out of the oven. But don’t take my word for it. Do a taste test, only try not to eat a whole dumpling when you’re at it.

I reserve the right to shun something like spotted dick because its sounds like a joke dish which isn’t fit for human consumption. TBH, I’ve never tried it, so I could be wrong. There’s a first time for everything…

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