Closer, my little dumpling

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Virgil Evetts

Thanks to a weekend of truly foul Auckland weather, involving all day fog on Saturday followed by an all day deluge on Sunday, I had little to do but think about food. Not that the weather really changes much in that regard.

The upside of such hideous atmospherics is that one has both the time and appetite for heavy-weight cooking. So, for the first time this season, I hauled out the croque chasseur and christened it with a rather excellent (even if I do say so myself) rendition of Bœuf Bourguignon. I doubt this Gallic stew needs much of an introduction, but just in case you’ve missed its 200-odd years of slavish célèbre,  Bœuf Bourguignon  is a slow-cooked stew composed of beef, onions and mushrooms, cooked in a great deal of red wine and a generous splash of stock. I’m probably oversimplifying things – there’s a basic mirepoix and the usual suspects of herbs in their somewhere too. But it’s a throw-together one pot wonder (which appeals hugely to my in-house scullery slaves) and it tastes trés, trés sophisticated to boot. It takes a special kind of stupid to screw up this sort of dish. It pretty much cooks itself, and turns out dandy every time.

But if I’m honest, I’m a dry food sort of person. The real reason I make anything vaguely stewy is that it gives me an excuse to make dumplings, a delicious and fluffy foil to the richness and weight of the stew. Plus, I REALLY like dumplings.  There is something quite magical about the way the batter is transformed from sticky gloop to perfect billowy rafts in a few short minutes, under the lid of a nice heavy crock pot.  In essence they’re sort of like steamed scones, but are so much more in practise, and the secret to true  dumpling perfection is all in the suet [usually sold as Shreddo in New Zealand], a processed fat made from the webbing (or ‘caul’) surrounding beef kidneys. Used in pastries and baking, it produces a distinctive silken texture, and delicate, short flavour. I know it’s tempting to use cheaper alternatives like dripping, or, dare I say it, butter, but take it from someone who knows their fats – it’s suet or death when it comes to dumplings.

As it looks like winter will be putting on a gala performance all week, I’m keen for some seasonally-appropriate kitchen inspiration – particularly more excuses to make dumplings.  A little help?

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5 thoughts on “Closer, my little dumpling

  1. There might be an element of nostelgia in true dumpling appreciation, but they shouldnt be stodgy really. A good dumpling is very light, almost fluffy.

  2. Aside from Asian style dumplings which I adore, the magic of dumplings has escaped me so far. Maybe I have cooked them wrong but dessert dumplings were a little stodgy for my taste. I’ve only eaten savoury ones made by others but I have never felt inspired to make my own…. there must be something I am missing.

  3. I was hoping someone would mention dessert dumplings. I remember having a very good golden syrup based dumpling/pudding sort of thing years ago. If anyone knows what I’m talking about I’d love a recipe.

  4. I love dumplings and usually use a simple 1 cup flour ,1/2 tsp BP ,fat/suet and mix with water.Variations tend to be using cheese or herbs in the dumplings.

    Years ago we used to buy our suet from the butcher and freeze it then quickly process it.
    They are really yummy when made as a dessert too.I seem to remember a sweet version which is cooked in syrup.These can include fruit such as apple plus spices of choice enclosed in the dumpling.