Feature image of a plate with meat suet pie and greens and the words 'What is Suet? A Comprehensive Guide to This Versatile Animal Fat'

What Is Suet? A Comprehensive Guide to This Versatile Animal Fat

If you’ve ever tried a traditional British pie or pudding, you’ll already know what suet can do to take pastry to another level. Or perhaps you’ve had those morish dumplings in your stew… so good.

However, there’s so much more to suet. Rendered down to make tallow, it’s the O.G. in cooking fat along with lard, and in making soap & skin balms – long before these man-made seed oils came about.

I personally only use tallow soap now – it’s made with minimal ingredients – unlike other soaps on the market – and of the perfect PH level to compliment human skin.

Cooking with suet and tallow adds depth of flavor other fats can’t get near. Did you know that McDonald’s fries were originally cooked in tallow? Yep… Just potato and tallow with a pinch of salt.

Now they’re made using 19 ingredients. One of them being beef flavoring to try and mimic the original taste that suet produces.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the world of suet, answering the question: what is suet? From its origins to its many uses in cooking and other things. So, let’s embark on this culinary journey and discover the magic of suet!

Key Takeaways

  • Suet is a versatile cooking fat with high smoke point and mild flavor.
  • Suet stands out from other fats with its unique texture, making it ideal for savory dishes like pies & puddings.
  • Alternatives to suet include vegetable shortening, frozen butter, lard & coconut oil, perfect for adding richness and flavor!

Understanding Suet: A Versatile Animal Fat

a large piece of beef suet on a chopping board

Suet is a unique type of fat found around the kidneys of cows and sheep, similar to pork fat. It has the following characteristics that make it incredibly versatile for cooking, particularly in traditional British cuisine:

  • High smoke point
  • Mild flavor
  • Meaty undertones
  • Low melting point
  • Long shelf life

Fresh suet is highly sought after for its rich taste and unique texture that elevates both sweet and savory dishes. There are different types of suet, such as beef suet from cattle and mutton suet from sheep, which offer distinct flavors and culinary applications. Among these, real suet is considered the most authentic and flavorful option for traditional recipes.

Definition and Origins

Suet is the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys of cattle and sheep, typically used in pie crusts and steamed puddings. Making rendered suet involves clarifying, chopping, and boiling the fat to remove any unwanted bits, resulting in a mild-tasting fat with a unique texture.

Tallow, on the other hand, is a rendered form of suet with a longer shelf life, which can last up to a month without refrigeration or even years if stored properly.

The primary difference between beef suet and hard muscle fat lies in their melting and congealing points, as well as their glyceryl tristearate content. Beef suet has a higher melting and congealing point than regular fat, making it an excellent choice for various cooking applications. It can be rendered into beef tallow, a type of rendered fat, for frying or grated for use in baking, giving dishes a unique flavor and texture that is hard to replicate with other fats.

Types of Suet

Suet comes in various types, including:

  • Plain suet
  • Suet blends with seeds and grains
  • Suet with nuts and insects
  • Suet with bird-friendly goodies like seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and mealworms

Beef suet, in particular, is a prized cooking fat due to its high melting point, making it ideal for pastry cooking and deep-frying. It is also incredibly nutritious and versatile for baking, without an overpowering smell.

Sheep suet, on the other hand, also offers similar benefits and is derived from the kidneys and loins of sheep. Suet’s melting point ranges between 113°F and 122°F, making it perfect for a variety of cooking applications that require a stable and high-performance fat.

Its unique properties make it a popular choice among chefs and bakers looking to create dishes with rich flavors and textures that stand out from the crowd.

TIP

If you ask your butcher nicely, they may be able to give you lamb kidneys still attached to the suet.

Be sure to cook the kidneys in the melted suet – you won’t regret it.

Suet vs. Other Cooking Fats

Sliced lard with a knife on a round chopping board and a small plate with slices of lard

Compared to other cooking fats, suet offers a mild yet distinct flavor that enhances the taste of savory dishes without overpowering the other ingredients. Suet’s performance in cooking is comparable to other fats like lard and tallow, allowing for versatile use in a wide range of recipes.

When it comes to taste and texture, suet differs significantly from butter, which has a rich and distinct flavor and is used more broadly in various cooking applications. In terms of suet taste, it has a clean and mild flavor with a hint of meatiness that sets it apart from vegetable oils like canola or soybean, which are relatively neutral in taste.

Furthermore, suet’s high glyceryl tristearate content gives dishes a unique texture, making it ideal for creating crispy and airy Yorkshire puddings, flaky and tender British pies, or even a perfect pie crust.

Differences in Taste and Texture

Suet’s taste is subtle and mild, with just a hint of meaty flavor that adds depth to dishes without being overpowering.

Its texture is quite distinctive compared to other cooking fats; it’s solid at room temperature and maintains its shape when heated, which is different from the creamy and spreadable texture of lard.

Lard has a milder and more neutral flavor, and both can contribute flavor and texture to dishes, but suet’s unique taste profile makes it stand out.

When cooked, suet’s taste can develop into a richer and beefier flavor, while its texture becomes creamier and less crumbly. This transformation adds a whole new dimension to dishes, making suet an irreplaceable ingredient in many traditional recipes.

Cooking Applications

Suet’s high smoke point and ability to maintain its solid form when heated make it a highly versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It’s predominantly used in traditional British cuisine, featuring in dishes such as steak and kidney pie, spotted dick, and suet puddings.

Its unique properties enable it to affect the texture and structure of baked goods differently than lard and vegetable shortening, providing a distinct sensory experience.

In addition to its use in baking, suet’s high melting point makes it ideal for deep-frying and sautéing, imparting a crispy and airy texture to dishes like Yorkshire puddings.

Preparing and Cooking with Suet

Preparing suet for cooking involves either rendering it into tallow or grating it for use in recipes. The rendering process involves melting and filtering the fat.

To grate it, it helps in freezing the suet before shredding it for dough and batters. Both methods enhance suet’s unique properties in the final dishes, thus making it a preferred choice for sweet and savory recipes alike.

TIP

A favorite in our house – cut some suet into small pieces, say 12mm or 1/2″ cubes, and fry on medium to high heat.

The liquid fat will melt out and you’ll be left with solids that are called ‘cracklings’. Get a nice browning on them and eat them with a pinch of salt… beautiful stuff!

Save the remaining fat for your next roast or for frying.

Rendering Suet: Tallow

Rendering suet into tallow requires the following steps:

  1. Coarsely chop the suet and place it in a large pot or slow cooker.
  2. Heat the suet over low heat until it melts into a liquid.
  3. Strain the liquid tallow to remove any impurities.
  4. Pour the tallow into clean glass jars for storage.

Tallow can be used in a variety of cooking applications and can also be used as an ingredient in soap and balms and bird food – birds go crazy for it.

Rendering suet into tallow not only extends its shelf life but also allows for a more versatile range of cooking applications. Its high smoke point and ability to remain solid when heated make it a popular choice for:

  • frying
  • sautéing
  • baking
  • roasting
  • deep frying

It is also an essential ingredient in traditional recipes, especially when finely chopped.

Grating Suet

For grating suet to use in recipes, freezing the fat initially is crucial as it makes the process easier. A large-holed grater can then be used to shred the suet into small pieces, which can be mixed into doughs and batters for various dishes.

Alternatively, suet can be warmed in the oven at its lowest temperature and then grated, taking care to remove any membranes and blood vessels as you go.

Grated suet contributes a unique texture and flavor to dishes, hence its popularity in recipes like puddings and dumplings.

Popular Suet Recipes

steamed suet fruit pudding on a plate

Suet is a popular ingredient in both steamed puddings and savory dishes, adding a distinctive richness and texture to each dish. Its unique properties make it a beloved component of traditional recipes, and its versatility allows it to be used in a wide range of dishes, including:

  • Steamed puddings
  • Dumplings
  • Pastries
  • Stuffings
  • Roasts

Whether you’re making a sweet or savory dish, pure suet can enhance the flavor and texture of your creations.

Steamed Puddings

Steamed puddings made with suet are a classic British dish, known for their rich flavors and satisfying textures. Ingredients like:

  • flour
  • sugar
  • raisins
  • spices

Suet cakes are combined with other ingredients to create a dense, moist pudding that is then steamed and served warm with a sauce. Suet adds a unique flakiness and tenderness to steamed puddings that are difficult to replicate with other fats.

Some classic suet-based steamed pudding recipes include spotted dick, a spongy pudding made with currants, and Sussex Pond Pudding, a local variation of suet pudding. Each region has its unique recipes and variations of these puddings, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of suet in traditional dishes.

Savory Dishes

Suet is not only limited to sweet dishes; it is also a popular ingredient in savory recipes, such as British meat pies, haggis, and dumplings. Its ability to add moisture and richness to dishes makes it a sought-after component in many traditional recipes.

From steak and kidney pudding to vegetable suet puddings and beef steak suet pudding, these savory dishes showcase the versatility of suet in cooking and its ability to elevate the flavors and textures of a variety of recipes.

No matter the dish, suet’s unique qualities make it an indispensable ingredient in the culinary world.

Finding and Storing Suet

A counter in a butchers shop showing a variety of meats

For those intending to incorporate suet into their cooking, it’s available in grocery stores, and specialty British food shops, or can be ordered online.

For optimal freshness, suet should be refrigerated or frozen and used within a few days or stored in freezer bags for up to several months.

Sourcing high-quality suet and storing it properly ensures that this versatile cooking fat stays fresh and ready for use in your favorite recipes.

From sweet puddings to savory pies, suet is a delicious addition to any dish, and proper storage is essential for maintaining its unique taste and texture.

Buying Suet

When purchasing suet, it’s important to select fresh, unprocessed suet from grass-fed cattle raised on regenerative pastures.

Suet can be found in the form of pre-packaged blocks or chunks, usually located in the meat department or butcher section of grocery stores. Alternatively, you can ask your local butcher for ‘trim’ or ‘kidney fat’ when looking for suet.

In addition to local grocery stores and butcher shops, suet can be ordered from various online stores, such as:

This allows you to conveniently purchase suet from the comfort of your own home and have it delivered straight to your doorstep.

Storage Tips

To keep suet fresh and ready for use in your recipes, it is best to store it in a cool, shaded spot, away from direct sunlight and heat. Suet can be stored at room temperature, but it is best to keep it below 70°F. In hotter conditions, it is recommended to store suet in the fridge or freezer for long-term storage.

By properly storing suet, you can prolong its shelf life and maintain its unique flavor and texture. This ensures that your suet remains fresh and delicious, ready to be used in your favorite dishes whenever the craving strikes.

Suet Substitutes and Alternatives

A jar of coconut oil with a spoonful of oil next to it and half a cocoonut

A variety of substitutes and alternatives are available for those unable to find or use authentic suet. Vegetable shortening is a common suet substitute, with its mild flavor and crumbly texture making it an excellent option for recipes that call for suet. Other alternatives include frozen butter, lard, coconut oil, ghee, and beef fat, each offering unique properties that can be used in place of suet in various recipes.

Although substitutes and alternatives might not perfectly mimic suet’s unique taste and texture, they still offer a similar culinary experience and enable the creation of delicious dishes that would typically require suet.

Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable shortening is a product of combining hydrogen with vegetable oil, like soybean or cottonseed oil. It has a crumbly texture and a mild flavor, making it a popular choice as a suet substitute. To use vegetable shortening as a suet substitute, it can be frozen until firm, then grated and used in recipes that call for suet. It can also be pulsed in a food processor to clump together and resemble suet.

While vegetable shortening may not perfectly mimic the flavor and texture of suet, it is a versatile and widely available option for those who cannot find or use suet in their cooking.

Other Alternatives

In addition to vegetable shortening, other alternatives to suet can be used in cooking. Frozen butter can be used as a substitute for suet in savory dishes, providing a similar texture and adding moisture to the dish.

On the other hand, coconut oil can be used as a plant-based alternative to suet, with its unique flavor and texture adding a new dimension to dishes. By exploring these alternatives, you can still enjoy the rich flavors and textures of dishes traditionally made with suet, even if authentic suet is not available or suitable for your needs.

But let’s face it, you can’t beat real suet. Just my opinion here but I’m not a fan of using anything other than animal fats in my diet. We’ve been eating them for millennia – it’s tried and tested. Whereas man-made vegetable and seed oils and fats are relatively new and I’m not convinced they are as healthy as we’re told.

Summary

In summary, suet is a versatile and unique cooking fat that can be used in a range of dishes, from traditional British puddings to savory meat pies. Its distinct flavor and texture make it a popular choice for chefs and home cooks alike.

For those who cannot find or use authentic suet, various alternatives, such as vegetable shortening, frozen butter, and coconut oil, can be used in its place, providing a similar culinary experience.

By understanding suet’s unique properties, preparing it correctly, and storing it properly, you can enjoy the rich taste and texture that suet brings to your favorite recipes. So why not give suet a try in your next dish and discover the magic of this delicious cooking fat!

I hope this has convinced you to give suet and tallow a try. If you’re curious about eating not-so-popular animal parts and feeling adventurous, check out my other posts about offal and organ meat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is suet good or bad for you?

Suet is high in saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels. However, it does contain natural and healthy unrefined saturated fats which could make it a good addition to your diet.

What is a good substitute for suet?

Vegetable shortening is a great substitute for suet. It is suitable for vegetarian dishes and can be frozen to firmness before grating on a large-holed grater for more chunky pieces. King Arthur Flour also notes that using shortening will change the flavor and character of the pudding.

What does suet taste like?

Suet has a mild, bland taste with a slightly meaty smell and dry, crumbly texture. When used in desserts, it adds a unique richness without making them taste like beef.

What is suet, and where is it found in animals?

Suet is a hard fat found around the loins and kidneys of cattle and sheep, and it is commonly used to make pie crusts and steamed puddings.

How does suet compare to other cooking fats like lard and tallow?

Suet has a mild flavor and crumbly texture, making it a great option for various cooking applications compared to lard and tallow.

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