Boiled beef and dumplings


  • Serves 6 people

Fergus Henderson brings a little magic to a British dish that deserves a place in the culinary pantheon.

  • 2.5 kg piece of beef brisket (you can also use silverside for this), unrolled
  • ½ bunch each flat-leaf parsley and thyme, tied together in a bundle with kitchen string
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 6 each onions, carrots and leeks, rinsed well
  • To serve: horseradish sauce, green sauce (see recipes above) and pickled walnuts
  • Brine
  • 600 gm sea salt
  • 400 gm caster sugar (many suggest brown, but not me)
  • 12 each juniper berries, cloves and whole black peppercorns
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • Suet dumplings
  • 225 gm self-raising flour
  • 100 gm suet (see note)
  • 1 egg, beaten
01   For brine, bring all the ingredients and 4 litres water to the boil in a large pot over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Decant into a container and allow to cool.
02   Add the beef, making sure it is completely covered by brine; you may need to weight it with a plate. Cover and refrigerate (unless you live somewhere really cold) for 12 days.
03   When you’re ready to cook, rinse the beef well (discard brine) and place it into a large pot (remember, it has to be big enough to accommodate the vegetables as well), cover with water and bring it up to the boil over medium-high heat. Skim scum, add your herb bundle, celery, bay leaves and peppercorns, reduce the heat to low and very gently simmer (there should be barely any sign of movement in the water) for about 4 hours.
04   After the meat has been simmering for 2 hours, put in the onions, after 2½ hours, the carrots, and after 3 hours, the leeks. Keep an eye on your vegetables and make sure they don’t overcook – you can always remove them. However, this is a dish that demands well-cooked vegetables, no al dente here. Prod the beef with a knife to see how it feels; it should be giving but not collapsing. When everything is ready, transfer the vegetables and beef to a serving dish, add a splash of broth to moisten (reserve remainder) and keep warm.
05   Meanwhile, for the suet dumplings, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl then add enough cold water to form quite a sticky dough – 120ml should be enough. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and set them aside on a tray lined with baking paper.
06   Bring the broth to a rolling simmer over medium-high heat, add dumplings in batches and cook for 10 minutes. They should look like little suet clouds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper.
07   Serve brisket, dumplings and vegetables with horseradish sauce, green sauce and pickled walnuts.

Note Suet is available from select butchers. You may need to order it ahead. You'll need to begin this recipe 12 days ahead if you'd like to brine the beef yourself, and a few more days for the brining process will not do any harm.

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