Them dry bones
There are few better things to do on a lazy Saturday than to go on a culinary adventure. For a while now I’ve been asking my butcher for marrow bones and he’s been coming up short, because his supplier seems to be pinching them when they drop off the rest of the beast. But on this particular trip he was able to supply the necessary, along with a pound of fantastic shin beef.
Right about now I can hear your asking “why bother?”, but I really think these things are important. We know that ecologically, we can’t all eat steak all the time (sad face). But I’m also of the opinion that high quality animal-based foods are the cornerstone to a healthy diet. So if we’re going to eat animals, we need to learn to eat everything, not just the expensive bits.
Which reminds me of reason #2: these bones were effectively free. Bingo for the Yorkshireman!
Finally, the bits commonly thought of as less appetising – marrow, liver, heart and so on – are actually packed with essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.* Our desire to eat bone marrow is arguably one of the reasons we evolved to use tools in the first place.
My initial aim was to make a traditional dish known to me because of a recipe in Nigella’s “Kitchen”, where bones are sliced lengthways and grilled, the marrow scooped out of it’s natural little serving platter. Unfortunately it became apparent that this was not how I was to receive my bones. I took charge of three massive “ends” rather than slim and dainty tubes, and on the way home I racked my brain as to how this was going to work.
Whatever I did with them, it was going to take more tools than I had at my disposal. Cue a trip to Clas Ohlson for a hacksaw (why didn’t I have a hacksaw?!). The label clearly stated the saw was suitable for metal and wood, but was less clear about bone. I thought it best not to ask.**
It was also apparent that the recipe was not going to happen. Even with my precision sawing skills, making these huge hulking half-joints into little bone canoes that would fit under the grill would be a push, especially when my hardworking wife would be home in an hour and probably wouldn’t appreciate bone dust all over the floor. I tracked down another recipe in one of Jennifer McLagan’s excellent books, “Odd Bits” (the other is called “Fat”). So then, bone marrow and mushroom custard it was!
Half an hour later I was left with slightly smaller hunks of bone and more amazingly, all of my fingers still attached and unscathed.
These would be roasted in a hot oven for 25 minutes, and the marrow from the smaller bones blended with some soaked porcini mushrooms, a cup of milk infused with thyme, two eggs and some black pepper. This mixture would be divided between ramekins and baked in a bain marie for 25 minutes in a low oven. Once cooled to room temperature they were covered and left in the fridge overnight.
And the result? Well, not as bad as I had feared! A perfect custard is difficult to master at the best of times. Mine had a slightly spongy top, but underneath was a soft, creamy and very delicate custard, with some pieces of the dried mushrooms adding texture. It was always going to be a little darker than the original recipe with the marrow roasted first, but the flavour wasn’t too coarse; in fact, had I not roasted the marrow I’m not sure I would have noticed its comforting beefy presence against the porcini. The bigger bones were tossed into the slow cooker with half an onion, some thyme and a tablespoon of cider vinegar and are still bubbling away in the kitchen corner.
*I don’t have problem with saturated fat, but if you do, know that bone marrow contains mostly monounsaturated fat. That’s the “olive oil and avocado” fat even conventional dieticians will tell you is OK.
**Incidentally, if anyone happens to know what the ideal “teeth per inch” is on a hacksaw for bone, please do let me know! This was 24, I felt perhaps it was a little too fine.