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Suet Secrets

By Brian Geiger, contributor

December 3rd, 2009

Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn't, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you're not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what's happening.

Pearl Francis asks via The Twitters,

Hi, Perle,

You're looking at some suet right there. Because it's a fat, it's useful in just about any situation where you need fat. Because it's from a cow, though, it's going to have a pretty strong flavor, though kidney fat is typically more mild than fat from other parts of an animal. If it were from a pig, you'd be looking at leaf lard, but from a cow it is suet.

Most people, if they know about suet, know one or two things. First, it's used to lure birds to a bird feeder in a particularly effective if messy-on-a-hot-day way. Some suet mixed with seeds makes a treat that many birds adore. So you could make bird food out of it, but that would be a waste.

Another bit of suet lore is from a poem by Lewis Carroll, Father William:

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak 

For anything tougher than suet; 

Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak 

Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

(The secret was a career in law earlier in life, if you're curious.)

Personally, I wouldn't eat pure suet, but apparently old people had few choices in 19th century England. Fortunately there are more uses than just for the birds and the elderly.

Beef suet is great for adding fat to otherwise lean beef dishes. If you are making hamburgers, sausage, or some manner of beef stew, and you used a lean cut of beef, then you could fortify the dish by adding the suet. Hamburgers and sausage really need a goodly amount of fat in them to work at all, so the beef kidney fat is a really good addition there. A hearty stew, like a chili, would probably work well with the extra fat, because you want to convey all of the flavors from the spices well, which requires fat in many cases.

Of course, you could just use a fattier form of beef rather than the suet, but you have a couple of reasons not to do that. First, the kidney fat is milder in flavor than other portions of the fat, so you can control the flavor of the final dish a bit better.

Second, you can more easily control the amount of fat, as 80% lean chuck doesn't necessarily mean you're getting 20% of fat by weight. It just means you're not getting any more than 20% of the fat.

Third, you may have access to meat from an animal that doesn't have much fat, such as venison. I have my own personal vendetta against deer that I won't go into here, but I highly recommend people start eating more venison. The suet will give you more options of what you could do with that meat.

Aside from fortifying lean meats, you have a few other options as well. If you need to make a roux for thickening a beef stew, you could use the suet instead of butter or another fat. People tend to think of roux as a butter/flour combination, but it works with any kind of fat.

If you wanted to be a bit more creative, you could make a pastry dough with the suet. I do not recommend this for any kind of a sweet pie. Seriously. But there are a range of savory pies that would go marvelously with a more savory crust, especially if they have a meat filling.

Those are some basic ideas to get you going on using your kidney fat. Once you've tasted it once or twice, you'll get a better feel for its flavor profile, so you'll be ready to know the limits on where it will and won't be good. Have fun, and enjoy!


posted in: Blogs, food geek, roux, leaf lard, lewis carroll, bird seed, bird food, beef fat, suet, kidney fat
Comments (5)

howardcharl2 writes: Thanks for sharing Posted: 2:17 am on February 15th

Kinburn writes: Just as a matter of interest, this guy shows how to render beef fat, Suet would be similar I think. Posted: 3:00 pm on October 21st

loreena writes: The way I have used suet is in Carrot Pudding, which has grated carrots, potatoes, spices, eggs, flour, currants and suet. It is a steamed pudding, much like Plum Pudding. But I think I remember making mincemeat pie filling with suet. It wasn't melted - it was just mixed in in little tiny pieces - about the size of a rice grain. The idea is that it mixes well this way, and then melts when the pie is cooked. Posted: 10:09 pm on January 16th

Pielove writes: I have had suet on my mind, since I have had a major craving for mincemeat pie. Does one generally render suet as is done for leaf lard? You would likely have to render the suet for poaching. Egads, rendering lard does smell nasty-- I bet suet would be even worse. I am going to keep the rendered leaf lard for the pie crusts and just buy some suet. Posted: 6:02 pm on December 5th

TheFoodGeek writes: It occurs to me that poaching might be interesting as well. Or perhaps some manner of short rib confit. Hmmmmmmmm. Posted: 1:21 pm on December 4th

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