On this blog, it is very rare that we'll let anything else other than meat be presented as the main star on the plate. We are butchers after all, are we not? But there are some exceptions and sometimes, just sometimes, we will push forward and elevate a delectable morsel that is not animal in origin.

In this case, we would like to showcase the humble dumpling. Because when done properly, in the immortal and often repeated words of John Torode on Masterchef, dumplings really can be 'a wonderful thing.'

Originally served to bulk out meals and fill stomachs on the cheap, simple recipes from the 1600s often just used flour, water and salt and were described as 'floaters' to accompany a broth made from scraps. The idea being that some of the flavour would impart from the liquor as these balls jiggled around on the surface, as it boiled on the hearth.

From simple beginnings, other ingredients such as leftover bread, yeast or bicarbonate of soda were added to the mix, which leavened or lightened the dumpling; along with a scattering of herbs such as parsley, thyme or lovage, the latter of which imparted a fennel like note. Great then if the stew was pork based and contained a trotter or two.

Over time, a certain etiquette came into place, where the method of eating dumplings became more formalised. In Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, which was published in 1853 and included a series of sketches that portrayed changing small town customs and values in Victorian England, there is a famous scene where Mr Holbrook recites his father's rule of 'No broth, no ball, no ball, no beef'. This alluded to the strict sequence in which one should eat their stew and dumplings at the table.

First the liquid. Then the dumpling. And finally the meat.

A distillation of the times, in other words. Where everything had an austere purpose and a moral code to proceedings.

Nowadays, we are a lot more free to enjoy dumplings, as should be the case. Because when done right and as an accompaniment to the oxtail recipe below the method for making them, you really don't need anything else.

Just a bowlful of this, with some fluffy pillows of joy will soon set you straight on a cold, damp day.

These dumplings do include suet though, which really is an essential ingredient and of course, is bovine in origin.

So OK, perhaps we're not steering off the beaten track after all.

Herb Dumplings

METHOD

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, mustard, salt and pepper into a large bowl and add the suet.
  2. Rub in the ingredients, squashing with your fingers to create a rough crumb and then add the chopped parsley.
  3. Little by little, add the cold water, mixing with your hands to make a soft dough. Try not to overwork it too much.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and gently form into small balls, before flattening a touch.
  5. Place them on top of the stew, spacing evenly apart and then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid, otherwise the dumplings will become heavy.
  6. After this time, remove the lid and cook for another 5 minutes. The dumplings should be light and fluffy and not doughy in the middle.

For the lowdown on how to make the perfect oxtail stew, please check out Richard H. Turner's recipe here.

Herb dumplings and oxtail stew