Taste the good life

The simple pleasure of bone marrow

Bone marrow and parsley salad on toast.

Bone marrow and parsley salad on toast.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life … —Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau wasn’t eating much meat during his time at Walden Pond; he actually preferred his homegrown beans, trading some for a little rice when he could. Any marrow he was sucking was of the metaphorical variety—jamming his straw past the distractions and into the elemental core to drink from the source.

Of course, anyone who has sucked out the primordial goop from a roasted cow femur knows that the eating of actual marrow is no mere metaphorical pleasure. The enjoyment provided by that most simple dish might be the epitome of good living.

“Simple” is one of the core tenets of farm-to-table/nose-to-tail/slow food philosophy, and an argument can be made that humble bone marrow is one of the movement’s seminal dishes. English chef Fergus Henderson is considered by many to be the godfather of nose-to-tail cooking (he wrote the key book—The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating), and the roasted bone marrow with parsley salad recipe that he’s been serving for 24 years at his St. John restaurant in London is iconic in the culinary world. Anthony Bourdain has said it’s what he wants for his last meal, and hip restaurants around the world have followed St. John’s lead.

Before revisiting it for this story, I’d only tried roasted bone marrow once, five years ago at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey. It was a revelatory experience. The marrow had a mildly unctuous, meaty flavor, almost like a well-marbled rib-eye steak, but spreadable. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten.

And despite its emergence as a foodie trend, bone marrow is an inexpensive dish to prepare at home. It’s also very simple. Bones are only $2.69 a pound at The Butcher Shop at S&S Produce (ask for 3- to 4-inch-long beef marrow bones), and you need only one per person if serving as an appetizer.

You could skip all pretense and just throw the bones in a 450-degree oven for 15-20 minutes and dig in. It really is that simple. But a little complementary acidic/crunchy/spicy/fresh-green accompaniment will really send it over the top. I went straight to the source and found Henderson’s recipe, and just made some minor changes (no capers and more oil in the parsley salad).

It was surprising how well it came out. And eating marrow again was just as invigorating as the first time. As I crunched on slathered toast with wild-eyed enjoyment, I imagined it being akin to how our scavenging ancestors felt when they first busted open the bones of picked-over carcasses and discovered the brain-building manna within and perhaps thought, Life is good.

Roasted bone marrow with parsley salad

(adapted from Fergus Henderson)

6 4-inch-long sections of beef marrow bones

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1/3 cup shallots, thinly chopped

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for toasting bread)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

sea salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

8 slices sourdough, or French, or rustic white bread, cut into 2-inch pieces

Heat oven to 425. Brush bread pieces with a little olive oil, place on baking sheet and into oven. Bake seven minutes or so, turning pieces as needed until crisp. Remove from oven.

Set oven to 450, line a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with aluminum foil, and place bones on it, wide-side down. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until marrow gets “wobbly” and starts to pull away from sides. (Note: It’s normal for a little marrow to melt out the bottom of the bones, but don’t cook too long or you’ll have nothing but liquid.)

While things are roasting, toss parsley, shallots, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Plate bones. Using skinny spoon, scoop marrow and spread on toasted bread, top with a little parsley salad, moan with pleasure.