Mince and dumplings was a mainstay of my childhood. At home and at school, it graced the menu on a near weekly basis: Mondays meant mince at my village infants’ school, and mince and dumplings could regularly be found on my grandma’s stove. So I was surprised last year when I realised I hadn’t turned my hand to them. It’s such a simple, comforting dish: rich, deeply savoury minced beef, cooked slowly in the oven, topped with suet dumplings.
Suet dumplings are brilliantly fuss-free. The ingredients are mixed together briefly, rolled into balls, and dropped on top of the stew. The dumplings cook in the mince, puffing and plumping from the heat and the steam and then, when the lid is removed for the final final fifteen minutes, burnishing and crisping on top.
They’re also versatile, and great vehicles for flavours: I’ve gone for the classic, plain dumpling here, but try lacing them with a little fresh thyme, or minced rosemary and grated cheddar. My mum used to do them with enough black pepper to blow your socks off. They work in just about any stew or soup you can think of; just remember to make sure the base is a little wetter than you would want the final dish – those dumplings will soak up quite a bit of liquid!
Mince and dumplings
Makes: Serves 4
Takes: 30 minutes
Bakes: 90 minutes
For the mince
1 large onion
1 large carrots
2 ribs celery
1 tablespoon olive oil
400g beef mince
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons tomato puree
500ml beef stock
200ml red wine
1 bay leaf
For the dumplings
250g self raising flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1. Dice the onion, carrot and celery finely. Heat a large oven-safe frying pan (no rubber handles!) on the stove over a low heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the vegetables slowly, until they soften but don’t brown.
2. Add the mince, and turn up the heat to medium, stirring the meat as it browns.
3. Once the mince has browned, stir in the tablespoon of plain flour and cook for two minutes. Stir in two tablespoons of tomato puree, and cook over a medium heat for five further minutes before adding the stock, red wine and bay leaf, and seasoning generously.
4. Heat the oven to 180°C. Bring the mince up to a gentle boil on the stove and transfer to the oven for an hour.
5. Towards the end of the hour’s cooking time, make the dumplings. Mix the self-raising flour, salt and suet together, rubbing it together with your fingers. Add the water slowly, stirring the mixture with a knife, until it comes together; you may not need all of the water. Roll the dough into walnut sized balls.
6. Remove the bay leaf from the mince, and position the dumplings on top of the stew, distributing them evenly. Place a tightly fitting lid on the pan, and return to the oven for fifteen minutes. Remove the lid from the pan and cook uncovered for a final fifteen minutes, before serving.