January 3, 2008

The possibilities of bone marrow

"if you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing..."

Few statements exhibit the kind of simple truth embodied in Fergus Henderson's philosophy on food and eating. Armed with this basic premise, and lacking any formal culinary training, Henderson opened St. John in 1994, receiving critical acclaim for his honest, soulful cooking. He eventually spread his "waste not" gastronomic ethos through his 1999 book, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking. How influential was this book? Well, Bourdain called it "the new bible for cooks," and it certainly helped popularize the use of offal in restaurants.

Henderson's signature Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad (although based on a traditional preparation) is legendary. Even Bix in San Francisco acknowledges the importance of his contribution by calling their version Marrow Bones “St. John” with a Parsley, Caper and Shallot Salad; incidentally, one of the most delicious dishes I can recall.

Over the weekend, Lav and I found some amazing cuts of beef leg bones with huge lobes of bone marrow at Uwajimaya... four healthy sized portions for a measly $2. I started to contemplate a few of the ways I wanted to prepare the marrow. We'd definitely do the classic roasted bone marrow with toast points, which took care of two of the bones.

In The French Laundry Cookbook, Thomas Keller recommends removing the marrow from the bones prior to soaking the marrow in ice water for 12 to 24 hours to extract blood from the marrow. This is done primarily to prevent the marrow from spoiling, and you should technically be able to keep the marrow in the bone during soaking and roasting; but removing the marrow prior to soaking may create a cleaner flavor. It also gives you the chance to parboil the empty bones, which helps in removing the tougher connective tissue from the bone for a cleaner appearance.

We used the marrow from a third, smaller bone to make a decadent bite of fettucine. My initial intention was to make a cream sauce using melted marrow. Lav was watching a rerun of No Reservations (in Osaka), and I heard Bourdain going nuts over takoyaki... which reminded me that we had some beautiful sushi-grade slaces of octopus in the refrigerator, a perfect textural and flavor balance for the rich marrow.

This is an incredibly rich dish; portion size is only intended to be one mouthful per person (to avoid palate fatigue... and cardiac arrest). Here is the resulting recipe:

fettuccine, bone marrow "alfredo", octopus

2 ounces dry fettuccine, enough for 3-4 forkfuls when cooked
1 tablespoon fresh bone marrow
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon
thinly shaved shallot
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 slice sushi-grade octopus
freshly grated nutmeg
5-6 parsley leaves, chopped
kosher salt and pepper

Boil fettucine in salted water until al dente, about 7-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a pan over medium heat until foam subsides. Finely dice the fresh marrow and add it to the pan until the marrow is nearly completely melted. Add shallots and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add flour and cook until a roux develops and turns a light golden brown. While whisking, slowly incorporate milk until sauce achieves the desired consistency and is uniformly creamy. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Add the cooked fettuccine to the sauce until pasta is well coated. Dice the octopus and mix into the fettuccine. To serve, twist one mouthful of fettuccine around a spoon and sprinkle parsley on top. Makes about 4 servings.

We have one more lobe of marrow left, and I have a couple of ideas I still want to try...

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