Fat chance?
December 7, 2013 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Mincemeat intervention: What kind of fat did I just buy at the butcher, and can I use it in place of suet?

My masochistic Christmas challenge this year is to make proper mincemeat. Huzzah! Except: suet. I researched a few butchers in Toronto and today visited the one butcher that everyone said would sell suet. I asked for suet and they looked at me like I had three heads. Dejected, I wandered to a few other butchers, one of whom was quite happy to sell me a hunk of pig fat. Since it only set me back 81 cents I took it, but now I"m not sure if it will work. It's labelled as "pork back fat." The hunk of fat is a smooth (almost beautiful) rectangular slab. I know that true suet is beef fat from around the kidneys. I've also read that you can sub in "leaf lard" (from piggies) for suet in mincemeat.

My questions:
1. Is pork back fat even remotely similar to "leaf lard"?
2. If this is totally the wrong kind of fat, should I use vegetable shortening or shelf-stable lard as a substitute for the suet in mincemeat?
3. If you answered "lard" to question 2, is there any reason why I couldn't just render this slab down and make my own lard, even if it's not the coveted "leaf lard"?
4. If I am really out of luck here, any other recommendations for suet in Toronto?
posted by Mrs. Rattery to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd do variant 3. but test a small batch first, all the way through to finished mincemeat. I mean, pork fat, mmm, but you want to know if it all comes together nicely.

And oh, how I sympathize. I got the most beautiful organic beef from a local farmer, and asked them for kidney fat and they also just kinda looked. I explained that you actually can youknow do stuff with it - which was totally new for them
posted by Namlit at 2:58 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Other than that they both come out of a pig, nope, sorry. The reason you want leaf lard or suet is that they're mostly neutral in flavour, whereas lard or fatback will taste porky.
2. Vegetable shortening is a more acceptable substitute than cooking lard.
posted by zamboni at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pork fat is delicious, and you're definitely better off with the pure fat. The no-refrigeration-required lard is hydrogenated, and thus contains trans fats -- and a lot of the flavor is removed in the processing.
posted by wryly at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2013

Are you just using it for the mincemeat (i.e the meat and fruit mix), or are you also looking for something to use in pies (mince pies?) As far as I can tell, the main worry with substituting for suet is in dough recipes (because it is unusually heat-stable for a solid fat), but for something like mincemeat I think you'd be fine with something else?
posted by kagredon at 3:07 PM on December 7, 2013

My never-executed plan from a few years back was to grate frozen Crisco in place of vegetarian suet (which is made from palm oil I think). I ran out of time and ended up finding vegetarian mincemeat in a jar. Then my grandad brought me a box of vegetarian suet.

Google did turn up one person asserting suet could be found frozen in the meat department of Toronto supermarkets. Might be worth a phone call (at least if you can get through to the meat department specifically and not just whoever answer's the supermarket's phone).
posted by hoyland at 3:10 PM on December 7, 2013

Try calling Sanagan's in advance and asking if they can get it for you.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2013

Here's a recipe from RTE that uses coconut oil if you have to wing it. There are some mincemeat recipes out there that don't use fat at all and some people say they successfully use grated frozen butter in place of suet (though what I recall from my research a few years back was that you did want the higher melting point for the mincemeat, though I can no longer tell you why).
posted by hoyland at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2013

It's really different. You can use veggie suet, which you can get in packets, but I've always just used butter. I chop it and put mine in a warm oven as per the classic Delia recipe, and it's always delicious and really easy. A good handful of slivered almonds gives a nice appearance and extra texture, a bit like the white of shredded suet. For extra taste I recommend home candied peel which is easy if long winded, and really does make a difference to the final taste. Also makes nice gifts, especially dipped in dark chocolate.

I'd use the pork fat for something else.
posted by tardigrade at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2013

Also, from a "talking to butchers" perspective, you might have a better time asking for "kidney fat" instead? I'm guessing that most butchers in North America don't hear a lot of requests for suet, but they might know it by a different description. Also seconding "call ahead". Even if they don't normally sell suet, they may be willing to sell you some if it's something they'd usually throw away or mix in with the rest of the beef fat. Unless you live near supermarkets that do good business in kidneys or actually butcher whole cows in-house, I suspect you won't have great luck outside of dedicated butchers.
posted by kagredon at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2013

Don't use shortening or lard, they'd react totally different in your recipe.

Shortening, lard and suet are all fats, yes, but shortening or lard would melt completely. Suet, on the other hand, would maintain a lot of its, for lack of a better term, 'structural integrity', just as meat itself does. Your recipe probably says to chop the suet into small cubes, right? When it cooks, it'll reduce some, but there'll still be small cohesive bits of suet in the finished mincemeat, in the same way that cooked meat gives off juices but is still recognizably meat chunks.
posted by easily confused at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Wisconsin, we used to feed suet to the birds. We had a special suet feeder and everything. So, maybe look at stores that sell fancy bird food? (I think it's the same product; it was a hunk of fat that I thought looked pretty gross when I was ten.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2013

these guys supposedly have it,

Or if you're not skeeved out by eating something packaged as bird food, these guys have it as well, and probably much cheaper, though I don't know for sure.
posted by windykites at 11:12 PM on December 7, 2013

Have you tried Bruno's or Pusateri's? I've had luck at both.
posted by whowearsthepants at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2013

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