Dem Bones

Roasted Marrow Bones and Parsley Salad, courtesy of British chef Fergus Henderson, via The New York Times.

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

SERVES 4

TIME: 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS

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

DIRECTIONS

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.)

The parsley salad in preparation.

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.

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Soulful Pot Roast

A serving of Rostbraten Stephanie, presented on an antique Wedgwood Etruria Queen's Ware plate, pattern unknown.

Once upon a time, when I had extra money in my pocket and the desire to spend it, a photo-stylist friend and I made reservations at Danube, David Bouley’s culinary salute to the delicacies of the Austro-Hungarian empire. (It closed in 2008.) The high-ceilinged restaurant, which had just opened, was darkly glamorous, its scarlet, gold, and black decorations recalling an Art Nouveau setting for The Merry Widow or what someone wittily called Zsa Zsa Décor. The service was subtle, the wines were terrific, and the comforting yet unusual fare, updated Mitteleuropean food in downtown Manhattan, was as delicious as it was adventuresome. All in all, it was a splendid evening, though the fussy plates—I remember them being large squares or long, lean rectangles—crowded the silverware and glasses, which made dining a bit awkward.

Memories of that long-ago evening led me to flick through the yellowing pages of Good Food from Vienna by Susan Strong (Frederick Muller Ltd, 1956), one of many vintage cookery books in our kitchen library. The ice and snow in my family’s neck of the woods will be hanging around for a few more months, along with chilling winter winds that whistle across our hilltop from the Great Lakes, so we are in regular need of meals that warm body and soul. And what could do that more effective at doing that than a hearty Austro-Hungarian dish?

Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his wife, the former Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, shortly after their ill-fated marriage began in 1881.

I settled on Strong’s recipe for Rostbraten Stephanie, or roast beef Stephanie. Presumably this main course is named for the charmless Belgian princess who would have been Empress Consort of Austria if her husband, Crown Prince Rudolf, hadn’t died in the company of a teenage mistress. His violent demise inspired a couple of swooningly romantic movies, and it remains suspicious to this day. Was it a murder-suicide pact between star-crossed lovers? Or was it a double murder driven by politics? Her husband’s death left Stephanie a widow at 25; eventually she married again and shuffled off history’s stage. The beef-and-vegetable dish apparently bearing the blonde princess’s lilting name, however, is still on menus in the former imperial city. And for that my family is grateful.

Strong’s recipe calls for a “piece of rib of beef,” which, the butcher at my local Price Chopper informed me, is a cut that costs about $10 a pound. He didn’t have it anyway. So I substituted a 4-pound pot roast. The recipe directs one to use 1/4 cup of Madeira wine, but I poured a nearly empty bottle into the pot, which amounted to about 1 cup. To deepen the flavour of the bouillon I also added one teaspoon of fennel seeds; it sounded good at the time and vaguely Hungarian, though caraway seeds might have been even better.

Strong’s original recipe is printed below, with my alterations in brackets.

Rosstbraten Stephanie, ready to be covered with a lid and simmered for 3-1/2 hours.

ROSTBRATEN STEPHANIE

SOURCE: Good Food from Vienna by Susan Strong (Frederick Muller Ltd, 1956)

SERVES 6 TO 8 PERSONS

INGREDIENTS

Piece of rib of roast [I substituted a 4-pound pot roast]

2 chopped mushrooms [I used two very large white mushrooms]

1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley

2 chopped carrots [I used 5 rather narrow ones that were about to go bad]

1/2 head chopped celery

2 chopped raw potatoes [I used 2 large ones, once again about to cross the Rubicon]

1 cup green peas [Ours were frozen]

[1 teaspoon fennel seeds]

1/4 cup Madeira wine [I used 1 cup]

2 tablespoons butter or dripping

3 cups water

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

In a large sauce pan, prepare a bouillon with the carrots, potatoes, celery, parsley, peas, [fennel seeds], some salt and pepper, and the water. Bring to a boil, lower the flame to medium, and cook for 20 minutes.

Dust the beef with flour, salt, and pepper and cook, with the chopped mushrooms and the butter, in a heavy pan over low heat. Turn the beef from time to time to lightly brown all sides.

Pour the bouillon, including the vegetables, over the browned beef. Add the Madeira wine and let simmer until the meat is tender [approximately 1 hour per pound].

To serve remove the pot roast, allow it to drain a bit, and set it on a platter. Surround it with cooked vegetables, which you will remove from the broth with a slotted spoon. [You will have a considerable amount of broth left, so save it to flavour a risotto the next day or as the basis for a soup.]

Before being presented at table, the Rostbraten Stephanie was arranged on a Pont aux Choux Maïs platter by Gien.

Out of India

An Indian-style curry dinner from the pages of a 1961 French cookery book. The china is a mix of 1970s Japanese porcelain and late-19th-century Limoges. The place mats, made by Lady Clare and bought at Goodwill, depict landmarks of London.

I have never been to India though it seems everybody else I know has, from Delhi to Simla to Goa and beyond. Two of our dearest friends lived in India for years, and one day we hope to emulate them. Until we find ourselves flush with funds, however, it looks like the closest my family and I will get to that storied subcontinent is when we make curry.

We came across an Indian-style lamb curry in La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion, 1961), and it was terrifically easy to make. Lovers of Indian cuisine, take note: It was not authentic, being more of a denatured Eisenhower-era variation, a sort of safe curry for fearful palettes. Nonetheless it was enjoyable, though I would frankly add a few more tablespoons of curry powder to up the Indian ante. Our daughter, in particular, found the individual toppings (chutney, slivered almonds, et cetera) a lot of fun.

CARI DE MOUTON (LAMB CURRY)

SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion, 1961)

SERVES 6

INGREDIENTS

5 tablespoons butter

2-1/2 pounds lamb or mutton neck meat, cut for stew

5 tablespoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 bananas, peeled and cut into large pieces

2 apples, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths

4 tablespoons slivered almonds

4 tablespoons seedless raisins

1/2 cup orange marmalade

Chutney sauce

Salt

DIRECTIONS

Heat the butter in a deep heavy pan until frothy. Add the meat and cook over a low fire until the meat is slightly cooked on all sides. The meat must not brown.

Add the curry powder, allspice, and a pinch or two of salt to 3 cups of water, mix thoroughly, and pour over the meat. Add the bananas and the apples. Cover and simmer for at least 2 hours. If the sauce thickens too much, add water.

Serve very hot with boiled rice, and in little side dishes serve the slivered almonds, raisins, orange marmalade, and chutney sauce.

Our recent Indian-curry dinner, served on Bell Flower by Fine China of Japan, a 1970s pattern of which I'm not fond. And, yes, I drink Champagne with almost everything.

It Ain’t Chopped Liver

X. Marcel Boulestin's foie de veau, with a side of asparagus.

X. Marcel Boulestin is a name lost in the culinary mists of time, at least as far as popular kitchen culture goes. But in the 1920s and 1930s this dapper, energetic Frenchman ran one of London’s swankest restaurants. At Boulestin’s, which opened in Leicester Square in 1925, moved to Covent Garden a year later, and closed in 1994—it was replaced by a Pizza Hut—the décor was colourful (he once worked as an interior decorator and was greatly influenced by Paul Poiret’s Atelier Martine), the clientele posh (Lady Diana Cooper was a fan), and the menu a tasty mixture of French standards and English country.

Given Boulestin’s celebrity, it comes as little surprise to learn his recipes were staples in the pages of Vogue, The Manchester Guardian, and The Daily Express and enjoyed a great deal of popularity. Or that he became reportedly the first televised chef, thanks to his appearance in 1936 on the television programme “A Scratch Meal with Marcel Boulestin.”  This native of Périgord (1878-1943) gathered his restaurant’s specialties into charming cookery books intended, he wrote, for “people who have a good cook, to those who only have a plain one, and to those who have not got one at all.” Part of what makes the volumes so delightful is the impressionistic illustrations by Jean-Émile Laboureur (1877-1947), an artist so close to Boulestin that one suspects their friendship was a bit more serious than mere camaraderie. Another pleasure is the wit that infuses the pages, with such well-turned phrases as “the mellowing influence of food on civilised beings.” Elizabeth David, for instance, called Boulestin’s books “fresh and original.”

In any case as I was lazily sipping a cup of tea Saturday morning my husband announced he and our daughter were going to the grocer and that I’d better make a list. So I broke out several cookery books for guidance, including Boulestin’s A Second Helping (Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1925). From its pages I decided we would dine that evening on foie de veau or liver.

The liver that came out of my mother’s kitchen during my childhood was a sad thing, leathery and tough. It was only after I was grown that I learned liver, a most delicate organ, should be cooked medium rare, so it is silken in texture. With that in mind we dove into Boulestin’s recipe, which is incredibly simple, just a bare paragraph of instruction; I’ve given it a bit more structure and insight, as seen below. We paired it with slender spears of green asparagus cooked with a bit of olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper. The wine was Colli Vicentini’s Cabernet Veneto 2008, a perfectly acceptable Cabernet Sauvignon from the sale bin at Astor Wines & Spirits; it cost $3.59. Astor calls it “full of blackcurrants and … incredibly accessible and soft on the palate.”

Our daughter, Catherine, loved her first dish by Boulestin, saying it tasted like cheese; when pressed, she explained she meant the texture. Then I slipped up and used the L word, at which point she screwed up her face and downed a glass of water to rinse the taste out of her mouth. Ah, well. It’s often safer just to describe liver and other such viands to her in general terms as “meat.” That four-letter word is vague enough not to disturb a child’s delicate sensibilities.

FOIE DE VOIE AU FOUR

SOURCE: A Second Helping by X. Marcel Boulestin (Frederick A. Stokes, 1925)

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 slice bacon, raw and finely chopped

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound liver, cut into two-inch pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Parchment paper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toss the bacon, parsley, and shallot together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle this mixture evenly in an ovenproof dish (approximately 10 x 10) and set aside.

Heat a skillet over a medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Add the 6 tablespoons of butter and when it has melted and ceased to foam, add the liver. Cook it a scant two minutes per side, so the liver is browned but medium rare. (NOTE: This is a crucial step, so watch the liver carefully, otherwise it’s going to overcook.)

Covered with a buttered sheet of parchment paper, the foie de veau is ready to place in the oven.

Place the browned liver in the ovenproof dish on the bacon, parsley, and shallot mixture, and pour over it the butter in which it was cooked. Cut a piece of parchment paper just large enough to cover the liver completely and butter one side of it; lay it on top of the liver, butter side down.

Bake for 15 minutes and serve.