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Roasted bone marrow: Is Anthony Bourdain's favorite meal all that?

Could the time have finally arrived for roasted bone marrow to be served in every household on Sunday nights?

Bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain calls the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad at London's St. John restaurant his "death row meal." That's high praise for a man who has eaten his way around the world a few times.

The sizzling inner core of animal bones has been featured on the stunt-contest cooking show Top Chef, too. But now, a publication no less Everycook than Food Network magazine takes it mainstream, declaring roasted bone marrow the year's trendiest menu item. And also the spookiest, just in time for Halloween.

I had the good fortune of trying the dish at St. John last month. Chef Fergus Henderson calls his unique menu "nose to tail eating," which means there's more to order than chicken breast. Grouse, eel, brill, oxtail and tongue and neglected cuts of meat are among the offerings. And there's plenty of liver, too. It is made into spreads, smeared on toast and offered as a side dish. St. John (26 St. John St. in the East End) is in a 100-year-old building that used to be a smokehouse and draws a hip, young crowd. There's a bustling meat market nearby, lending grittiness to the whole affair.

When you order the first-course dish at St. John, a plate is brought to the table with four veal marrowbones, a small pile of parsley salad studded with sliced shallots and capers, slices of crusty bread, toasted, and a tiny heap of "wet salt." (To mimic at home, I add a few drops of water to kosher salt.)

To eat, you scoop the gelatinous and sizzling marrow out with a narrow, long-handled spoon, spread it on the bread, top with parsley salad and a pinch of salt. Before long, each bone looks as if a ravenous dog stripped it clean.

The taste is often labeled "unctuous." Though the word has negative connotations when applied to a person (sleazy and oily), it is often used in the food world to describe something that is meltingly rich. Indeed, at St. John, I did look up once and noticed grease dripping from the corner of my husband's smile after he took a big bite.

I vowed to try my hand at the dish back home and can report it was a success in that it tasted much like the St. John version. However, the dish is a bit off-putting if you think about it too much, and I can't imagine making it a lot.

After calls to a few butchers, I found beef marrowbones at Jo-El's Kosher Foods in St. Petersburg (2619 23rd Ave. N; (727) 321-3847). I bought five for $3.99 a pound, which set me back about $13. A bargain for such decadence. The bones are often purchased there for soups: Toss them in broth, let the marrow cook and meld into the melange, and then discard the bones.

I used the recipe from the My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, by Melanie Dunea. It is this book in which Bourdain extols the virtues of the dish and for which he let himself be photographed nude with a large animal bone covering his naughty bits. I told you he was a bad boy.

I took the advice of another cook who placed the bones upright in a roasting dish on thick slices of crusty bread. The bread catches any melting marrow and gets crispy-toasty at the edges. The trick is not to roast the bones too long or the marrow will slip away. About 20 minutes at 450 degrees is good.

With the marrow bubbling, I arranged the elements on a platter and headed for a nighttime repast under Saturday's almost-full moon. Poolside, we slathered the marrow on toasted bread, just as we had done in London. Only this time, there was a dog at our feet waiting to claim a discarded bone. We were finished in about 20 minutes, cutting the richness with a robust merlot, but he chomped on for another hour.

I enjoyed the novelty of it all, but my death row meal remains a oversized slab of meaty lasagna.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

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Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad

5 (3-inch to 4-inch) pieces veal or beef marrowbone

1 medium bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked from stems

2 shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Toasted crusty bread, for serving

Stand the bones in a roasting pan and place in a preheated 450-degree oven. Depending on bone thickness, roasting should take about 20 minutes. You're looking for loose and giving marrow, but marrow that's not yet melted away. It will be bubbly, though. (Some people put the bones on slices of bread to catch the marrow as it drips and savor that bread, too.)

While bones are roasting, lightly chop the parsley and mix it with the shallots and capers. Just before serving, dress salad with the olive oil and lemon juice; salt and pepper to taste.

Don't completely season this dish before serving; let the diner do the last-minute seasoning. To eat, scrape the marrow from the bone onto the toast; season it with coarse sea salt. Place a pinch of parsley salad on top; eat immediately.

Serves 3 as a first course.

Source: Adapted from My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea (Bloomsbury, 2007)

Roasted bone marrow: Is Anthony Bourdain's favorite meal all that? 10/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 5:30am]
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