Some days I feel a bit like a Georgian squire, a fantasy helpfully fueled when (a) you have a Federal Style farmhouse, as we do; (b) a fire is blazing in the wood stove, which is nearly always the case at this time of year, and (c) there’s a bottle of port nearby, resting in an antique glass decanter. To make the most of this picturesque reverie recently I went in search of an historic recipe for roasted marrow bones, a dish I associate with England in the eighteenth century and which I haven’t eaten in years and years. Unfortunately my search for authenticity went awry.
Most of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century recipes I came across seemed utterly wrong, directing one to seal up the ends of the bones with pastry dough and then to roast them for upwards of a hour. The fatty, inner lining of bones, marrow is a delicate, jelly-like substance, and prolonged cooking turns it to little more than hot liquid, or what former Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl accurately describes as “bright yellow crankcase oil” in the book Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet (Random House, 2003). In the end, she boiled marrow bones, wrapped in a dishcloth, for about ten minutes in boiling water, and found them to be perfect softened and ready to spread onto toasted bread.
I went to The New York Times website and found a 2007 recipe for roasted marrow bones that was adapted from one created by Fergus Henderson, chef and founder of St John Bar and Restaurant in London. (The eatery is happily housed, to me, in a modest Georgian former smokehouse near Smithfield Market, which upped the squire fantasy to my mind.) If you like marrow bones, look no further. The dish, which includes a delightful topping made of chopped parsley, sliced shallots, and capers is wholesome, hearty, fresh, and, yes, delicious enough to include a nine-year-old among its fans. Our young daughter raised her eyebrows when she sat before a plate of beef bones and was told that it was dinner, but she enjoyed the rich taste. As for the parsley salad? She hated it.
ROASTED MARROW BONES
SOURCE: The New York Times, 31 October 2007
TIME: 20 minutes
8 to 12 center-cut beef or veal marrow bones, 3 inches long, 3 to 4 pounds total
1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons capers
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Coarse sea salt to taste
At least 4 1/2-inch-thick slices of crusty bread, toasted
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put bones, cut side up, on foil-lined baking sheet or in ovenproof skillet. Cook until marrow is soft and has begun to separate from the bone, about 15 minutes. (Stop before marrow begins to drizzle out.)
2. Meanwhile, combine parsley, shallots and capers in small bowl. Just before bones are ready, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle dressing over parsley mixture until leaves are just coated. Put roasted bones, parsley salad, salt and toast on a large plate. To serve, scoop out marrow, spread on toast, sprinkle with salt and top with parsley salad.