As with so many other things (lamb’s brains for instance) I tried bone marrow for the first time at the Black Hoof. On our first visit it was offered as “St. John’s Bone Marrow” or paired with the lone vegetarian option on the menu, the cauliflower soup. St. John is Fergus Henderson’s London restaurant and in his cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating offers a recipe for the quintessential bone marrow preparation.
I try to stay away, at least in this space, from debating the health benefits of what I cook and eat. I’m not a doctor and I don’t have the time or training to sift through clinical studies and determine which side has the balance of evidence behind them. The other problem is that evidence–or at least the accepted consensus–seems to swing like a pendulum. Everyone remember the high-carb craze of the mid-nineties or the equally ludicrous Atkins claim that heavy cream in your coffee every morning was a healthy choice? My general philosophy is that if we eat what our grandparents (or an ethnically diverse cross section of our friends’ grandparents) would have recognised as food seventy years ago only very small marginal health benefits can be gained from sweating each new study. If you care, here is what Chowhound has to say about the health benefits of bone marrow.
This is relevant in this case because bone marrow is a dish, like pan-seared calf’s liver, which looks good, feels indulgent while we are eating it but which I find delivers a pleasant, refreshing high instead of leaden heaviness. Like chicken wings eating bone marrow involves a certain amount of effort and industry. I’m not saying that this exertion makes the consumption calorie-neutral but I find it does create a brake on all but the most committed appetites and unlike chicken wings the evidence of what we have left behind is hidden inside the bone.
Marrow bones are sometimes used to flavour soups or stews or the marrow itself can be chopped and used as an ingredient in dumplings. Compared to the primal roast marrow bone these preparations seem overly-tame. But for such explicitly meaty dishes the taming influence of the parsley salad is important. Parsley can be grown at any time of year but I can’t see why dandelion greens in the spring or arugula in the summer wouldn’t work just as well. Fergus Henderson has an excellent discussion of how the capers are present only as a minor highlight that he sums up with the line: “When administering such things as capers, it is very good to remember Raisin Bran.”
A fuss is often made about the tools used to extract the marrow from the bone. The true food nerd will have a set of dedicated marrow spoons but I find that a butter knife or the handle of a teaspoon works passably well.
I found an earlier batch of marrow bones at Nortown Meats at Bayview and York Mills for five dollars and change. This later batch came from Sanagan’s in Kensington Market.
Update: This post was originally published on February 23, 2010. I’ve updated, edited, and added new photos to it.
Roast Bone Marrow
Adapted from Fergus Henderson’s Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad
The gold standard roast bone marrow dish is served at Fergus Henderson’s St. John. This is adapted from his recipe.
Prep time: 10 minutes Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: a good taste for six or a sturdy bone marrow course for three.
- 6 pieces veal or beef marrow bones, each about three inches long
- 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 2 shallots or half a red onion peeled and sliced very thinly
- small handful(1 TB) of capers, rinsed if desired
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 TB apple cider vinegar
- pinch granulated sugar
- salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 450°F.
- Place shallots or onions in a small bowl with lemon juice, cider vinegar, a large pinch of sugar, a small pinch of salt, and enough water to just barely cover. Allow to stand for at least an hour. At serving time combine onions, capers, and parsley and dress with olive oil and about half of the liquid that the onions steeped in.
- Cover bottom of bones with aluminum foil. Henderson doesn’t go for this step but I like that it keeps the marrow where it belongs.
- Roast bones in an oven-safe pan (a cast iron skillet works perfectly) for about twenty minutes. If you have a load of bones, like mine, that have some variation in size and shape the bigger ones will need slightly longer. Don’t overcook or too much of the fat will render away and the marrow will be chewy.
- While the bones are roasting prepare the salad. Roughly chop the parsley (or other greens) and combine with the capers and shallots. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper just before serving.
- Serve on toasted baguette slices with flaky sea salt and the parsley salad.