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Whoever coined the phrase dry as a bone never tried marrow—that custardy, fatty filling, hiding amid beef and veal leg bones, like light inside a tunnel. A lot of people haven’t. For most of my years, I didn't even know it existed, until one winter night when my family was having osso buco and egg noodles, and my grandma asked for my pushed-aside shank bone and started spooning it up like pudding. I was in awe.
Which makes sense, right: In an era of boneless this and skinless that, bones are, literally, cut out of the picture, or cast aside as trash. Maybe they are collected in the freezer for stock. Maybe given to Snowball for a snack. When I was growing up, a couple decades ago, I never thought of them beyond that.
But when my grandma was growing up, almost a century ago, they were something to look forward to. Her mother would frequent a kosher grocer—“The butcher would always have bones!”—then boil them in soup until the broth was thick and the marrow, tender. “Not roasted, like today,” she tells me. “Now they’re the in thing, you know, in restaurants.”
Indeed, at Gabrielle Hamilton’s iconic East Village restaurant, Prune, roasted marrow bones—with parsley salad, almost-burnt toast, and crunchy gray salt—was a signature dish for several years. That same presentation is also beloved at my favorite restaurant in Raleigh and I can only imagine how many others, peppered across the country. In Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, she writes: “The veal marrow my mother made us eat as kids...I grew to crave as an adult.”
This seems to be happening with a lot of people. Because the soup that my grandma remembers is, more or less, the bone broth that folks now line up for like it’s the beefy elixir of life. Is it really? Or, when you boil it down—down, down—is it just nostalgia?
In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child recommends that marrow be “poached and used in sauces, garnitures, and on canapés.” I prefer a streamlined, stripped-down approach, à la Prune:
Buy bones. You’ll either have to ask for them—and as Grandma noted, no butcher should ever be without—or they’ll already be on display, hanging out near the steaks and chops and cutlets. They might be split into canoes or chopped into tree trunks. Either is great. Ideally, these will be about 4 inches in length, but you can’t split hairs over split bones. Unless you really know your way around a cleaver or saw. And I don’t.
Stick on a foil-lined sheet tray: canoes like they’re swimming, trees like they’re growing. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Roast at 400° F, about 15 minutes, until the marrow is bubbly and gelatinous. Serve with parsley salad: flat-leaf, chopped cornichons, tiny capers, so much vinegar. And lots of charred toast. And more salt. You’ll spread the marrow on the bread, lavishly, like warm butter. This, it turns out, is timeless.
- 1 1/2 pounds beef or veal marrow bones
- 1 shallot, very thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 cups barely chopped parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon drained capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped cornichons (about 5 pickles)
- Rustic bread, thickly sliced
- Flaky salt, for sprinkling
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Have you ever cooked with marrow bones before? What did you make? Let us know in the comments!