Growing up in a family influenced by my Italian heritage, much of it shared around the table, it wasn’t lost on me about how the good cooks in the family added flavor and richness to soups, stocks, and sauces. Bones, especially those that contained some marrow were best for providing that rich flavor.
Perhaps the most well known are the shank bones used to prepare the dish Osso Buco, where the marrow is left in the hollow center of the bone, braised and extracted, and eaten with the finished dish.
If you want to read more about variations on Osso Buco, refer to the archives where you will find a post published in February 2015.
However, this post is not about a big one-pot meal like Osso Buco, but instead simply about the marrow bone itself, roasted and served as a rich and flavorful opener to a meal.
I have always liked roasted or braised bone marrow. As a child, I recall scooping it out of bones that may have been included in whatever the meal was at the time. As I began to do more and more of my own cooking, and exploring different ways to use as much of the ingredients available as possible, I realized that bones containing marrow could be enjoyed as a stand-alone dish in addition to being the foundation for a stock or a treat for your dog. For example, a large beef marrow bone is a traditional treat in some European cuisines—poached until tender, then served on a white napkin using a long, slender silver spoon to scoop out the marrow center. But I didn’t want to get that formal and prefer the richer flavor you get from roasting the bones instead of poaching.
What I didn’t realize is that there is more to marrow than just fat! Yes, it is estimated that 70 percent is mono-unsaturated fat, the so-called healthy dietary fat. It is also a nutritious food, containing vitamin A, iron, traces of niacin, phosphorus, and some traces of thiamin. But I digress, as this is not a chemistry lesson but more about the flavor of this occasional culinary “treat,” which should be explored even if it doesn’t have any nutritional value because it is just damn good!
The best marrow comes from veal or beef femur bones, cut from the center of the leg where there is a better ratio of marrow content to bone. The bones are inexpensive and most butchers or meat departments will cut them for you given advanced notice. Three inches is an optimum size, however they can also be cut longer, but then should be cut again lengthwise to allow for easy removal of the cooked marrow.
Bone marrow freezes well, so if you are not going to use the fresh bones right away, they can be frozen for up to 3 months, wrapped properly to protect from freezer burn. If using the bones fresh from the butcher, they need to be prepared initially to remove any blood from the marrow. To do this, first rinse the bones in cold water, and then cover them with fresh cold water and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt per cup of water. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, changing the water and salt 3 or 4 times. Drain, rinse, dry, and refrigerate until ready to roast.
Roasted Marrow Bones
Allow 2 to 3 center cut veal or beef leg bones per person, 3 inches long if cut crosswise, or 6 inches long if cut lengthwise. Try to purchase bones of equal size so that the cooking time will be the same.
Rustic country bread
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Using a boning knife, scrape off any meat clinging to the outside of the bone.
Place the bones in an ovenproof roasting pan. If cut crosswise, stand the bones on end, if cut lengthwise, place the bones with the cut side up.
Rub a light coating of olive oil over the exposed marrow and lightly sprinkle with salt.
As the bones roast, some of the marrow will melt out, so one way of catching the melting marrow is to place several thick slices of bread on the bottom of the roasting pan and place the bones on top of that. The bread will toast up during the roasting and will then have a light, melted marrow coating that makes a tasty accompaniment to the finished roasted marrow.
Roast for 15 to 20 minutes depending upon the size and thickness of the bones. Test for doneness by inserting a thin cake tester or toothpick in the center. The roasting is done when there is no resistance to the test and the bone marrow is very hot.
Serve immediately, using an espresso spoon or small fork to remove the marrow, and then spread it on additional toasted bread slices and sprinkled with salt.
This dish should be served with a small side salad to complement the creaminess and richness of the roasted marrow. The standard salad offering would be a mix of parsley, shallots, capers, and lemon juice. However, I would like to suggest a salad I often prepare and find much more interesting as an accompaniment to this rich roasted dish.
Celery and Apple Salad
1 to 2 apples, many options: Gala, Honey Crisp, Yellow Delicious
2 to 3 ribs of celery, with leaves
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 to 4 sprigs of parsley, leaves whole, stems minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
Note: Although not prepared in this manner as the side to this roasted marrow recipe, this salad can be expanded to be a main dish, which I often do, allowing for 1 apple per person, and at times substituting diced dried figs for the raisins; hazelnuts or pistachios for the walnuts; adding a hard or aged cheese in small dice (for example, ricotta salata, smoked mozzarella, taleggio, chèvre, or one of the many pecorinos available).
Squeeze the lemon juice in a large work bowl.
Core the apples and dice into small pieces. Add to the bowl, mixing with your hands to coat with the cut pieces with lemon juice.
Split the ribs of celery and dice into small pieces. Add to the bowl with the apples.
Add the toasted walnut pieces and the golden raisins to the bowl and mix into the other ingredients.
Finely mince the parsley stems and along with the whole leaves sprinkle over the other ingredients in the bowl.
Lightly season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes if using, again mixing to combine.
Place a small serving alongside of the roasted marrow bones, and lightly drizzle the salad with some olive oil.
Simple enough, inexpensive, and really good. So give it a try, even if only once, but I’m betting that if you do try it, you’ll come back for more.
“A simple preparation of extremely fresh ingredients is the secret of truly elegant eating.”