beef stew with dumplings

i buy my meat from a number of different places – foodari direct is an easy option as they have a decent range of local and seasonal products and i also get most of my vegetables from them. i also use a local butcher and, when there is a good-value promotion to take advantage, of i’ve been stocking up courtesy of donald russell. this beef braising pack caught my eye recently (and filled my freezer!). it prompted me to make this year’s first batch of stew. with dumplings. 

it’s actually the dumplings that excite me most. i remember them from my childhood, eating them with mum’s chicken and vegetable soup. i love both the top of the soft fluffy dumpling and its gravy-soaked bottom.

if dumplings are new to you, this recent word of mouth blog post is a good introduction. i was intrigued to learn about a variation on the suet dumpling (recipe below) which sees stews topped with a savoury scone mix. i’ve never tried this and think it is something to find out more about.

i also need to work on finding a better stew recipe – i used beef shin and this jamie oliver recipe, making a few changes along the way, and while the overall flavour was good the vegetables were flavourless. this was so disappointing - i know it’s not surprising given the cooking time but i had hoped that jamie would have taken this into account so i didn’t have to. his final garnish of chopped herbs (he suggests rosemary, i used flat-leaf parsley), lemon zest and garlic was really good though, lifting everything.

suet dumplings (serves 4*)

100g self-raising flour

50g shredded suet**

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (optional)

salt & pepper

put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together using a fork. add sufficient cold water to make a fairly stiff but elastic dough which encompasses all the ingredients. work quickly and carefully – if you treat the mix roughly, squeezing it together, you will end up with dumplings that resemble golf balls rather than light and fluffy clouds! shape into 8 dumplings.

when the stew is ready bring it to a boil. add the dumplings (leave them on the top of the stew), cover and cook for 20-30 minutes, making sure the stew continues to boil. it’s the steam that does most of the work in cooking your dumplings.

* or two very greedy people – i made this quantity and david and i ate the lots! i didn’t serve the stew with anything extra though, such as mashed potatoes.

** if you have a packet of suet leftover from last winter you will probably need to throw it away and buy some fresh – it does go off. i found this out the hard way last year.