The Magic of Marrow
Imagine a kind of magic elixir, a perfume that is undetectable, invisible, and imparts an irresistible attraction to its wearer. A kind of love potion, if you will. Well such a thing exists! But sadly, it only works on meat. But that doesn’t meat you shouldn’t use it, or that you should fall for the hype when somebody else is using it.
I am here to tell you about marrow.
Marrow is on menus everywhere these days; it’s the little black dress of gastronomic fashion. It sounds simultaneously crude and virtuosic, virile but also super-refined. Really, all it is is fat. I understand little of its function in the body, which has something to do with the production of white blood cells – which makes no sense, because why would blood cells come out of a bone? – but anyway, it looks and tastes like fat. The one difference is a certain unmistakeable slickness it leaves; like a creepy uncle, it leaves an unmistakable flavor behind that you just can’t seem to wash off. It’s so fatty that it makes regular fat seem like meat. One jigger buzzed in to a sauce, make it seem fit for the crowned heads of Europe; two can change spa food to something that might have grossed out Elvis.
Which is why they are so useful with steak. Slick even the most unexceptional Food Lion steak with a little marrow pomade, and put it on a big platter all fanned out, and you can charge practically anything you want for it at a steakhouse. This trick works at home, too. Recently, I seared up some just-average steaks on my Weber grill, cooking them hard and fast, as I am wont to do. With a better steak, I would go the Adam Perry Lang “board dressing” route, bathing them in a mashup of beef juice, olive oil, fresh herbs, garlic, and onions. But for meat this weak stronger medicine was needed. I busted some marrow bones out of the freezer where they had been patiently waiting, and cooked them up in a hot oven while I was building up my fire. I added some onions, too, not because I wanted to eat greasy beef onions – although I do – but because a slight sweetness is very much needed in this industrial-strength lubricant. I also threw some five or six cracked, peeled garlic cloves in there too. But that’s just me.
The key to using marrow correctly, and I can’t stress this too much, is: marrow is a liquid. Nobody wants to eat actual marrow at the table; even I, the poster boy for tallow addiction, can’t bear it. Every great use of marrow I’ve ever seen has been behind the scenes, adding authority and body to other things. Marc Forgione created a marrow maitre’d butter for Meatopia whose shock waves reverberated across steakhouse nation; Michael White’s fusilli with octopus and marrow is probably the single most celebrated new pasta dish to come out in my lifetime. Neither of these dishes involves spooning the stuff directly out of a broken bone. To me, that’s just nasty.
Marrow: Get five or six cross-cut shin bones from your butcher. If you just call them “marrow bones” he will know what you mean, even though the term is a medically unsound one. Cut up a large onion, put it in a big roasting pan or cast-iron skillet, and rest the bones on top of that. Put it in a hot oven until most of the marrow melts. That’s it. You now have a culinary superweapon. Use it wisely.