When I was a younger man, one of my favorite dishes was osso bucco. It seemed tantalizingly exotic and exclusive, especially the most carnal part — the scooping of the marrow from the center bone. It was only later that I realized you could have that experience without the meat, tomato sauce and risotto.
Recently while browsing the meat section of one of our local upscale markets, I stumbled upon a package of marrow bones. I had no experience in the kitchen with them, so I bought them. The other night, I served the bones for the first time at a dinner party, accompanied by thick grilled slices of my homemade bread. “What’re those?” one guest asked. “Are those bones?” said another. Three of the six of us indulged; the other three carried on with conversation and glanced periodically at us and the bones, their faces betraying curiosity and slight alarm.
I guess in our tidy American culture, it can be a strange thing indeed to be served a plate of bones. But the times are changing. Gastrofriend Greg and I, while sitting at the bar of a trendy gastropub with our tequilas and beer researching for one of my “best burger” posts, observed several orders of marrow bones going by. We ordered some and when it was time to leave, Greg asked me which of the several burgers we tried had I liked best. “The marrow,” I replied.
I figure if you’re going to eat the hamburger, you should be willing to try the bone. And once you get past the sheer carnality of the experience, eating marrow bones is actually quite a subtle culinary pursuit. The bones themselves roast up to a lovely alabaster, and arrange architecturally on the plate (I used a black plate for added drama). The fatty roasted marrow spreads even silkier than butter on thick slices of grilled bread, the taste complex and rich, yet not the least meaty or overwhelming.
Here, now, are your instructions. If you don’t see the bones in the deli case as I did, ask the butcher, he can help. Serve them to your most adventurous and least squeamish dinner guests. Or, challenge your least adventurous and most squeamish… in which case there will likely be more for you. Enjoy. (And don’t forget how much your dogs will love you for the leftover bones.)
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serves 4 as an appetizer
1 lb. beef marrow bones
1/2 cup Italian parsley, stems attached
flaky sea salt such as Maldon or fleur de del
2-4 thick slices rustic bread (preferably not sourdough)
The quality of the bread and the salt are critical for this dish, as each will bring out the silky and subtle characteristics of the marrow.
The day before you’re cooking, place the bones in a large bowl of salted water in the fridge. Change the water once or twice over 12-24 hours (this process removes any blood from the bones).
Heat a large pot of water over high heat to a boil. Add bones, reduce to a simmer over medium heat, and cook for 10-12 minutes. Remove the bones from the water to a plate and let cool.
While the bones are cooling, brush your bread slices lightly with olive oil and grill over high heat — either on an indoor grill or outside on the barbecue — until they’ve got grill marks and are beginning to burn slightly on the edges.
Make your fried parsley: Pick stems with several leaves on them, and make sure the parsley is dry or else the water will splatter in the oil. In a small pan, heat 1/4 cup oil (grapeseed, canola or olive) over medium high heat. Drop a few stems at a time into the oil and cook for 15-20 seconds, until crisp. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.
Brush your marrow bones with olive oil, and place under the broiler in a hot oven for 3-5 minutes, until browned. Remove to a plate and surround with slices of grilled bread. Top bones with fried parsley as in the photo above. Serve with small knives for scooping the marrow out, and your finest flaky sea salt for sprinkling over the bread.