Just in case the high-fat cholesterol-laden taba ng talangka hasn’t killed you yet, over the weekend I also made a dish using rich, fatty, super meaty and incredible bone marrow. Is it any wonder between the talangka, the bone marrow, and all the pork dishes that heart disease is a big problem with Filipinos? Hahah. In case you were wondering how I probably go, it’ll most likely be with a piece of meat.
Bone marrow is the spongy, flexible tissue found inside the bones that contain the stem cells that turn into red or white blood cells that help carry oxygen through the body and fight against disease. You’ll find the largest concentration in the larger bones, especially the femur. That is why whenever you go to the supermarket or your local butcher’s to pick up some bone marrow for cooking or roasting, it is often either just the femur bone (which can then be halved or split lengthwise) or the shank, which is the meat on the upper hip centered around a big piece of that split femur bone.
As an ingredient, bone marrow is a prized ingredient in many world cuisines, not just in the Philippines. For example, the classic Italian dish osso bucco is made by braising beef shanks (veal shanks preferred) in vegetables and white wine. In fact, the name osso bucco in Italian roughly translates to ‘bone with a hole’, referring to the rich marrow in the center of the shank that provides the rich beef flavor and is a treat to suck out of the bone at the end. In Vietnam, it is the collagen-rich beef marrow bones that are used to create the deeply flavored broth that is essential to good pho. If you’ve ever had pho and wondered how they can create such a complex and meaty broth, the secret is in boiling the bones with seasonings for a very long time to completely melt the marrow and have it practically dissolve into the broth. You will often find bone marrow split lengthwise and roasted, sometimes simply with salt and pepper, other times with a gremolata like paste spooned on top and then roasted to create a rich, smooth, butter-like spread that can be either enjoyed with a spoon or spread onto crusty bread.
One of my all time favorite food experiences was at the Black Hoof in Toronto. We each ordered our own plate of bone marrow and after we finished it, we used the now hollowed out bones as a luge and did shots of whiskey pouring it in one end and drinking it from the other. The whiskey get into every tiny nook and cranny and carried the last bits of rich meaty goodness and oh man…that night was a blast. If you’re ever in Toronto I HIGHLY recommend the Black Hoof. Or if you’re in Vegas, my vote for best buffet in the city of buffets is the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan, where, among there myriad offerings (they have this orange mousse dessert that is incredible) is a giant heart-attack inducing pile of spicy kimchi marinated roasted bone marrow. Look, let me tell you, there’s a reason why roasted bone marrow is known as the ‘butter of the gods’. It’s smooth, spreadable, decadent, and if you eat enough of it in one sitting you’re guaranteed to meet your maker.
So here’s my Filipino twist on it. I wanted to recreate the flavors of bulalo, which is a clear Filipino stew that is made rich with by boiling the thick beef bones for several hours. With the soft, smooth bone marrow melting into the soup and the rich beef stock and tender boiled beef, bulalo is a hearty yet simple stew great for winters (ironic, considering the Philippines is unbearably hot). The problem with bulalo though is that the boiling process usually melts all the marrow goodness out and I never get to actually enjoy it as is. So without melting it in a stew, I still wanted to get the other flavors of the soup onto split marrow bones that I could then roast and enjoy by itself.
My solution was to roast the marrow bones with a sprinkling of very finely minced garlic and onion, so fine that most of it would melt into the marrow during the roasting process. I topped it with thin slices of onion that would crisp and caramelize in the heat and then after generously seasoning it with plenty of freshly ground black pepper I (sparingly) poured a scant bit of salty/funky fish sauce (a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine) instead of salt. Aside from the unfortunately fishy smell that came from the oven, I think it was an overwhelming success. I’ll just need to Febreze the room afterwards because if you’ve ever smelled fish sauce, you know what I’m talking about. Now imagine that smell heated to 375 degrees. Like Satan’s sweaty pits.
Often times, to counter the super richness of the bone marrow these dishes are accompanied by some citrus or a light salad with an acidic vinaigrette to cut the fattiness. I decided to pair it with my homemade ‘minute’ version of atchara, which is a dish made by pickling papaya, carrots, and peppers in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and seasonings. My ‘minute’ version is accomplished by blanching julienned carrots, red and green peppers, and celery in a similar pickling mixture that I season with garlic, ginger, peppers, and star anise. By blanching them I help them keep their bright color and crispness, and at the same time I am able to impart them with just enough acidity and bite to help pair nicely with the bone marrow.
So in case you’ve been living underneath a culinary rock and haven’t yet heard of the gastronomic wonder that is rich, meaty, sinfully delicious bone marrow, I hope this has given you some courage to seek it out.
Man: 184 Loneliness: 32