Just in time for halloween, I bring you this blog post about eating bones! So, please be forewarned if you think this is a subject that might make you upset (there are pictures).
I was under the weather for two weeks just recently, felled by this nasty bug everyone in Toronto seems to have gotten (some virus I've dubbed "the plague"). It wasn't anywhere near as terrible as influenza or mono, but it was a quite nasty cold that ended with laryngitis and left me struggling to get up the stairs. Plus, I'm not usually sick for that long!
Probably related to this, on Sunday I suddenly had a craving for roasted marrow bones. I had them for the first time back in May, I think, at Prune, a restaurant in New York City where I dined with my Aunt KS. They were served with a parsley and caper salad and a small dish of sel gris as well as little bits of toast. They were also really, really delicious.
Now, I imagine that this might be a turn-off to some of you, vegetarians and omnivores alike. Given the way we generally consume meat in America/Canada/the West, the concept of bones is a little different (though I'd think much more "familiar" than some organs). Ryan says it makes him think I'm going to cut off his leg and eat it. Ya never know, I guess... Still, there are a few reasons why I think they might be an interesting foray for those of you who do eat meat.
I constantly think about, and second-guess, my own desire (and perceived need) to eat meat. It's not something I feel morally justified in doing, though I also notice myself feeling more energized and "healthier" after I eat a moderate amount of meat--particularly red meat. I also feel satiated for longer periods of time and do not crave simple carbohydrates. However, I eat meat, especially red meat, very infrequently. Aside from the obvious ethical problems with raising inhumanely and then killing sentient beings for food, cattle--particularly industrially-raised cattle--are enormously bad for the environment and contribute to the failure of antibiotics and the rise of drug-resistant bacterial strains.
So, part of what I try to do when I eat meat is to be conscious of the choices I'm making as a consumer (i.e. eating meat infrequently but trying to purchase more ethically-raised animals when I do) and to use the meat I purchase in a respectful and thoughtful manner. This is somewhat easier when it's chicken (after eating the meat I can use the bones for stock) and a little more difficult when I'm purchasing a part of an animal (such as a cow) and know I'm not prepared to deal with all of it. Perhaps this just makes me a self-deluding hypocrite, but I do hope that eating the bones is one way of trying to be a bit more "nose-to-tail" even if I'm not brave enough for stomach, feet, noses, or the other sobering items available in many shops in our neighborhood.
Another plus is that bones aren't very expensive. I guess most people give them to dogs rather than eating them, though they're also great for soup stock (both straight from the freezer and also post-roasting and marrow-eating, which is why I put my "empty" bones back in there). All in all, though, it means that you can purchase better quality bones without setting yourself back too far. I got mine from the local Italian butcher, Gasparro's Meat Market (or, as their website says, "Vince Gasparro's Qaulity Meats"). One of the sons pulled two big bones from the freezer in the back and the father cut them into small, 2-3 inch segments using his giant saw. [I meanwhile tried to surreptitiously inspect their hands for small warts (I heard in my microbiology class at Yale that butchers are usually infected with papilloma virus; you can read more about it here), all to no avail.] A big bag of them cost me ten dollars. I slung it into my bike basket and then stopped by Economy Fruit for a cornucopia of delights, all for the tune of six buckaroos.
|Paulie is the "No Groceries Left Behind" inspector.|
At home, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and set a few bone segments standing upright in a pie dish. When the oven was hot, I put them inside and roasted them for about 30 minutes until the marrow was bubbling and the bones were light brown. Most of the recipes I've seen call for about 20 minutes of roasting and some recommend 350 degrees. I don't know if this is because some bones are frozen and some are not, but I have to say that my method seemed to work just fine. It seems like it might be a little messier if the bones were warmer, plus I'm storing my extra bones in the freezer and it's just easier not to have to thaw them first.
Meanwhile I cooked up some onions and mushrooms, adding a little lemon and a lot of parsley for some extra flavor. It seems that a parsley salad is a traditional pairing with marrow bones, but I thought my method was pretty tasty too. Because marrow is so rich (i.e. it is mostly fat), it helps to have something lighter and a little acidic to help cut through and lighten the flavor. I also toasted some of my homemade whole-wheat-and-spent-grain bread and sliced up some cucumber... et voilà! You spread the marrow on the toast and you're set to go. I found a knife and a spoon worked just fine for extracting the marrow, though of course you can use a marrow spoon if you're so accoutered (are you allowed to use that word with cutlery?). And what does it taste like? The coordinator for the pre-college program at school said it tastes like "meaty butter." I guess that makes sense. It's a little bit gelatinous, it's a little bit meaty. It's not really like butter, though. It's just different. And tasty.
|A somewhat unappetizing photo, I'm afraid--but I promise it was scrumptious!|
Now, the nutritional benefits (and dangers) of marrow are somewhat disputed. What seems abundantly clear is that the bones are full of fat. Marrow was a food of choice for our scavenging paleolithic ancestors, namely because it is... full of fat! And when you're a scavenging cave person, something like marrow is a ticket to survival. However, I am not a cave person. (Sort of, anyway; I do live in a basement.) Proper nutritional analysis of marrow does seem to be lacking. I read that the fat isn't saturated, so that's a plus. Some places on the internet say that it's a wonderful source of all these things you need, like vitamin K and iron, and will solve all your problems; some places say it's a source of fat, which makes you fat. I say this:
Bone marrow is delicious.
Bone marrow makes me feel really good after I eat it: satiated but not over-full or greasy, and with lots of energy for hours. I ate the bones yesterday for a good-sized late lunch and didn't eat dinner or any dessert because I was full and energized all evening. And I didn't just sit around! I speed-walked to the post office and back, rode my bike to school (second trip of the day), had opera rehearsal in which I was running around, waltzing, and generally working up a sweat for a few hours, and then I rode my bike home and did homework.
It's surely not a good choice for every day eating, but then I don't think any kind of meat ever should be.