This column won't be popular in some circles. (In fact, my phone might even end up with an unauthorized wiretap for writing it, but I don't care.)
When it comes to food, the French are geniuses. They excel at bringing together a range of flavors and textures using only a few ingredients. When their techniques are applied to foods that have been consumed for millennia, the results can be truly magical.
Roasted marrow bones offer a case study in the sumptuous convergence of old and new. References to their consumption reach back to the earliest horizons of written history, and they're still widely used in stocks, sauces and the ever-popular osso buco. Yet, few people in the United States have prepared bovine leg bones solely for the treasure they yield, and that's too bad.
Frequently arousing squeamishness among the uninitiated, roasted bone marrow nevertheless is a hedonistic delicacy. Most often described as unctuous, it's sinfully rich, boasting a distinctly beefy flavor, a dense, creamy texture and an oily shine. It's so rich, in fact, that eating it without some kind of accompaniment is almost unimaginable.
That's where those clever French folks help out, suggesting a clean, tangy salad of parsley, shallot and lemon, and a few sprinkles of sel gris or chunky grey sea salt, all set with the marrow on a small piece of toast. These accompaniments both balance and enhance the weight, fat and sweetness of the marrow, while adding interesting contrasts in texture and temperature.
Colorful, fresh and flavorful, this dish is at once primordial and contemporary. Making bone marrow is easy. Enjoying it requires a sense of adventure and total disregard for your diet.
12 2- to 3-inch sections beef marrow bone
12 thin slices crusty bread
(Note: Most butchers can prepare marrow bones with advance notice. Other outlets, including Ranch Foods Direct, regularly offer them frozen, often advertised as dog bones.)
2 handfuls Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 pinches sel gris or equivalent
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Inspect the bones and scrape away any large pieces of meat or fat with a sharp knife. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and oil very lightly. Stand bones upright on the cookie sheet, apply salt and pepper liberally to the tops, then invert the bones and repeat.
Roast bones in the oven for 15 to 25 minutes. The tops should brown, some liquid should release, and a wooden skewer should slide from top to bottom without resistance. If the bones are especially long, turn them over at the midway point.
While the bones roast, assemble the salad. Place the parsley, shallot, salt and lemon juice into a bowl and toss. Lay the slices of bread on the baking sheet, then place the sheet in the bottom of the oven for about three to four minutes before the bones are done, to toast up crispy. Serve an additional portion of chunky salt in a small bowl or plate on the side.
Take the bones out of the oven, and let them cool a moment before transferring them onto plates. Using a tiny spoon, scoop some marrow onto a slice of toast, sprinkle with salt, and top with a bit of parsley salad.