Cracking open bones

Cracking open bones to eat cooked bone marrow is a familiar part of my diet, it has grown on me since childhood. On days when kari kuzhambu, a dish where bone-in goat meat is braised in its own cooking liquids with south Indian spices, was made at home, marrow bones were easy to find and easy to disappear as people actively looked out for them. Goat marrow bones were narrow enough that it required some skill to suck out the marrow, a skill I lacked much to my frustration when I was young. But when it worked, it was hard to forget that moment of realization when the marrow was out and the struggle with the bone was over.

Roasted bone marrow

I don’t ever recall having had bone marrow at a restaurant until a few years ago when much to my pleasant surprise I saw it on the menu at a restaurant in Paris. These were beef marrow bones, much wider than those from goat, and hence much more easy to handle. After eating them, I told myself that I should look for them when I returned to the States.

Here is a method to prepare roasted beef bone marrow:

Beef marrow bones: femur bones cut to preferred dimension by the butcher

Good grains of salt

Arugula or any salad green with a peppery bite

Salad dressing: olive oil and lemon

Crusty bread

Pre-heat oven to 420˚F. Arrange marrow bones on a parchment lined baking pan, and place in oven. After the first 10 to 15 minutes, check every minute or so. Roast until marrow starts to bubble a little and ooze some of its fat. Serve bones on a plate with salad greens of choice and warm crusty bread on the side. Using a spoon, scoop out marrow onto a piece of bread and sprinkle with a few grains of salt.

Roasted bone marrow with grains of salt

 

In India, I don’t think marrow bones were purchased separately, they were part of an assortment of bone-in cuts from the butcher, thereby, perhaps adding to their demand at the table. As a child, when I had goat marrow bones on my plate that I could not use as adeptly as the people around me, someone in the family always helped me either by cracking the bones open using a stone-on-stone kitchen tool or by giving me a marrow spoon.

The beef marrow bones I purchase now are both available separately and are larger and easier to extract marrow from. With the help of an electric saw, my butcher cuts the large femur bone with plenty of solid marrow in it to transverse sections, and on a nice day even splits them open longitudinally and gives them to me with a smile. The existence of a large collection of bone fragments, especially of the femur bone, in many prehistoric sites, suggests the ancient practice of cracking open bones to extract marrow1. This was likely not a one man job as much as I don’t ever recall eating bone marrow alone.

 

Reference:

  1. Food: The History of Taste edited by Paul Freedman

 

12 thoughts on “Cracking open bones

  1. carrie gallagher

    Never had those, but may consider it in restaurant before trying on my own. Cutting the bone to the appropriate proportions will take tools and bravery. Sounds like a job for a .... butcher!

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Sure, Carrie, and yes, I think the butcher is definitely more adept at preparing these bones. Not surprisingly, it is a very popular meal for many of them.

      Reply
  2. nirmala

    Brings back childhood memories. Growing in India goat marrow is most common. I recollect my trips to the butcher with my father on sundays. Although bone in meat was bought the marrow often came as a bonus. The butcher inspite of being very busy on a sunday would have a smile on his face and tell my dad'this is for your little girl'. My day would be made.

    Like you mentioned in your blog the famous mutton curry cooked with south indian spices is mouth watering and I had mastered the art of getting the marrow out. Thanks to my dad.

    The beef marrow looks delicious and sumptuous particularly when compared to the goat marrow. A must try during my next visit to the US.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Lovely story about your dad. Thank you for sharing. And yes, beef marrow should be tried next time you are in the US.

      Reply
  3. Sudha

    I am a die hard fan. Goat marrow in South Indian curry, the roasted beef marrow bone or chicken marrow from chewing on chicken bones (when I am among close family). I am a convert. Thanks for the photos and the receipe.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      If I remember correctly one of your earlier comments on the blog was in response to the marrow bone in kari kuzhambu. It is nice to read about someone who likes marrow bones as much as you do. I can relate to the part about the chicken bones. Thank you.

      Reply
  4. Jeff

    Your photos are beautiful. I've never had marrow and must confess I feel a little trepidation. But I love reading your childhood memories, and I know this is something that Tyson would absolutely love 🙂 Thank you as always for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you, Jeff. I can understand the trepidation, especially, if you haven't eaten marrow before. Yes, I bet Tyson would love it.

      Reply
  5. Pavithra

    My most favorite memory of eating bone marrow is from my childhood. Almost every Sunday lunch at my grandparent's house would be an elaborate feast as the entire family would get together. I remember laughter and a sense of togetherness at the table. One of the dishes often featured on the menu was the south Indian style mutton curry that my mother and grandmother would make. I remember my Thatha (my grandfather) teaching me how to suck the marrow from the bone. If I was not very successful in the first couple of attempts, my Patty (my grandmother) would confidently take it to the kitchen and give it a hard knock with the motor and pestle and it would crack wide open. I used to look up at her with great admiration and thankfulness for this feat! My grandfather would always save some mutton bones from his serving for me.

    Another family member used to always look forward to Sunday lunches and mutton curries - she was our family dog, Benji. After the meal, we would collect all the bones from our plates and that would be her treat. I remember vividly the sound of bones cracking under her teeth, for a long time I would hesitate taking my fingers anywhere close to her mouth!

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for sharing your lovely story from childhood. The many similarities at the table with bone marrow is so interesting! The story about your dog was funny. Thank you.

      Reply
  6. José Luiz Borges

    Dear Bala,

    Your post has brought me memories of of papers I have read about nutrition and human evolution. There is strong evidence that our hominid ancestors were hunters but also scavengers and the development of tools to break bones played a fundamental role in the preservation and evolution of these species. Access to bone marrow provided a lot of energy as far as fat has the highest caloric density among macronutrients.
    The unusual growth of sapiens brain has been related to the mastering of fire and starch cooking, providind easily digestible calories. On the other side, brains that mastered fire an cooking had been already boosted by meat and bone marrow consumption.
    Nowadays bone marrow and salt (they always come together) are a delicious treat but, unfortunately,cardiologists seem not to like it!
    Our brains continue to work and developed new tools as the very efficient (and beautiful) marrow spoons.

    PS:Risotto can be cooked using melted bone marrow to fry the rice instead of butter. It is delicious!

    Hugs

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Dear José,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the evolutionary and nutritional aspects of bone marrow. I agree with what you say. I will add that the search for marrow must have been driven by taste more than hunger, given that the process of extraction must have required a lot of labor for a relatively small reward. The role of tools, fire, cooking and the energy hypothesis in human evolution is extremely interesting as is the hypothesis about the development of a unique brain by the hominids. More to talk when we get together next time.

      I agree that the saturated fat and the salt in the marrow dish are not considered heart healthy, but in moderation, I think they are fine.

      The risotto suggestion you make seems delicious! I will try it sometime.

      Hugs

      Reply

I look forward to reading your thoughts...