Pete’s Recipes: Stuff to do with Bones

Sorry for the inconsistent posting.  Seems like I need to start loosening my standards for what is bloggable or remember to take pictures when I do make interesting stuff.  I made an awesome pizza the other day with braised short rib, caramelized onion, mushrooms, and roasted garlic with the reduced braising liquid for the sauce.  That woulda been a blog but I didn’t think it was compelling enough.  On the other hand I buy 3 pounds of cod cheeks and make a dece meal without remembering to take a single picture.

Anyways, long way of saying I’m in a blogging rut.  I love doing this and hope to continue for many years, but I’ve gotta start writing about my less bizarre work.  Now that I’m starting a new job I am hoping to settle into weekend cooking and mid-week posting.  We’ll see.

So, since this happens to lots of people that aren’t me, let’s talk about what to do when someone gives you a giant bag full of beef bones.

I think Tim got these as part of his grass fed beef CSA. I guess I should change that to "I hope" since I wouldn't want to know where he got a couple trash bags full of large mammal bones otherwise

On a recent visit to NJ to visit the Ryan family, Tim pulled a few large bags of bones out of his freezer and asked if I would use them since he was planning to throw them out.  Of course I was unable to refuse the bones despite having no idea what I would do with them.

After a couple days of thawing, I pulled the bones out of the fridge.  There were a lot, like 10+ pounds I would guess.  I also would guess that the average grass fed beef CSA participant gives these bones to a dog.  But that would be boring, so I picked out all of the bone segments that had a clear pipe cut and placed them in warm water to soften the marrow.

Honestly, I don't really know what "pipe cut" means, but I think it refers to bones cut perpendicular to the bone so that the marrow center is visible from both sides. Means that once they are softened they can easily be pushed out with a finger

The goal was to extract the marrow from any bones possible, then place all bones (marrow or not) in a pot to make a demi glace-like sauce base.

After 5-10 minutes in warm water, you pull the bones out of the water and press on the marrow with one finger from the end with the smaller opening.  The key is trying to cover as much of the surface area of marrow with the pad of your finger to avoid it squishing around the edges.  It should pop right out.

That was the largest chunk of marrow I had ever seen

Eventually, you should end up with a plate that looks like this:

About 1% of my readers will actually look at this picture and see the delicious potential. The rest can feel free to make "we are the 99%" signs and Occupy ADB

Now that the bone marrow is out, it can be used a few different ways.  You can flour and deep fry it to serve as an extremely indulgent appetizer or a more reasonable decision is to use it as a sauce enhancer.  Reduce equal parts red wine and beef broth, melt in sliced up rounds of marrow, and you have a really ridiculous sauce for any beef dish.

Since I’ve already gone down the frying path, I decided to individually wrap them and freeze them for later use.  First they need to soak in cold salted water to get out some of the blood and firm up a bit.

For those who would never consider attempting this, marrow feels like very solid butter and smells slightly like an unlit natural candle

After an hour or so in the water, I pulled them out and let them drain/dry on some paper towels.

Looks a little different after the bath. More white

Then individually wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and transferred to a bag for the freezer.  Simple to do, and easy to pull out and use whenever you are planning a sauce for a red meat dish that could use a punch of beefy richness.

Future plans for these bad boys include a roasted bone marrow, sherry and mushroom gravy for a hunters pie and possibly using it as the fat source when making sausage with lean meat this winter

Even once the bones are emptied of the marrow, they can still be used along with marrow-intact bones to make demi glace-like sauce or concentrated flavor paste.  Start out by preheating your oven to 400F and putting all of the bones seasoned with some salt and pepper in a large pot.

The one on the far right was a freaking monster, had to have weighed a couple pounds on it's own

Pot goes into the oven for an hour.  Be forewarned, this is not going to be an awesome smelling hour in your kitchen and possibly your home.  It smells like some combination of rendering fat, burning candles, and petroleum jelly.  Just very unpleasant, but if you can wait out the hour things will take a turn for the better.

After an hour, pull the pot out of the oven.  Smear the bones heavily with tomato paste (easier said than done when the bones are over 300F on the surface) and cover with a 4-5 smashed cloves of garlic, 3 peeled and chopped carrots, 3 sliced ribs of celery, a large yellow onion, and some more salt and pepper to taste.

The celery looks a little odd since it was attached to a celery root and a little immature. Flavor wise it was great, just a thicker skin.

After another hour and a half in the oven the smell in your home should turn in a much more favorable direction and the contents of the pot should look like this:

The vegetables almost completely disappear due to the high heat

At this point, it’s a good idea to pour off the large amount of rendered fat in the bottom of the pot (since the marrow should still be inside the bones).  Ordinarily I despise the idea of removing the flavorful fat, but it has to be done or else the liquid will have a hard waxy shell when cooled.  Straining is a tricky process, I usually just cover partially with the lid and pour off the oil.

Once you’ve strained off as much fat as you can, return the pot to the stove top and pour in a bottle of red wine and at least 4 cups of water until the bones are completely covered.

This is just after I added the wine and water. You can see how much darker the liquid was right away

After a few hours of a lightly bubbling simmer the liquid should reduce by a little over half, and generally the contents of the pot should look completely inedible.

Every time I do this I am amazed by how burned the top looks when all the heat is coming from below

Turn off the heat, let it sit for a bit, then bring your trash can over to the stove to dispose of all of the bones after giving each a good shake over the pot to make sure all of the liquified marrow has come out.  Then run the remaining contents of the pot through a strainer over a bowl.

If you let this cool a bit before turning on the heat, you can skim off a lit more of the excess fat

At this point, the contents of the bowl would make a great jus for a beef dish or base for an amazing soup.  But, if you want something more concentrated that can keep for a couple weeks in the fridge or months in the freezer, this can be further reduced by heating at a low boil for another hour.

It's a lot of dirty cookware and work for 2 cups of concentrated sauce, but it's worth it for how much flavor it adds to red meat dishes

After the liquid has reduced by half, let it cool to room temperature and pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it in easy to use single servings or, if you plan to use it all in the near future, put it in the fridge.  Once at fridge temperature, it will look like this.

The yellow is the hardened remaining fat that I couldn't skim off. It can be used or avoided depending on the dish. Looked a lot like Vegamite I think, another favorite of mine

The great thing about this stuff is how many concentrated flavors it adds.  Beyond the rich beef flavor, you can taste the carrots, celery, onions and red wine strongly.  A spoonful can make the ground beef or lamb in a shepherds pie 10x better or help the flavor in any beef or mushroom based soup.  Definitely came in handy when making the steak and kidney pie.

Thanks to Tim for the bones (friggin’ jerk).  Next week will be a Foraging for Food I am thinking.

Weird Crap I Cook: Head Cheese

This post marks the one year anniversary of the ADB blog.  I didn’t quite accomplish all of my goals for the blog, primarily that I only averaged three posts a month, but I’ve enjoyed the experience and hope to keep it up for years to come.  Just as long as this little lady doesn’t oppose:

Introducing a new character to the blog, our daughter Janet. She baked at 99 degrees for 38 weeks. Also, this is the first time that the Le Creuset has been my second favorite thing in a picture

To celebrate the one year anniversary of the blog, I wanted to bring it full circle to where this blog began: cooking a whole hogs head.  Unfortunately, the folks at Meatland who sold me the original head told me that they wouldn’t have any in until the fall.  So, instead, I decided to make the dish I was planning on (head cheese) with the opposite end of the animal: the feet and ankles.

Total price for 5.6 lbs of pork: $6.55. I learned later in the process why this wasn't the bargain of the century

If someone has heard of head cheese before, they usually picture the bizarre “meat chunks in clear jello” item from the deli case.  In reality, head cheese is showing up on more and more menus at nice restaurants (likely because it is cheap to make) under it’s more fashionable name of “pork terrine”.  Terrines can be anything layered, really, but whenever I see a pork terrine I know that it’s just fancy head cheese; cooked and chopped pieces of meat that are held together by a gelatin made from boiling bones.

After a little online research I learned that pretty much any part of pig will work for making head cheese, which brings us back to that smorgasbord of funky meats.

Kristi walked in on this scene and made the same noise she makes when she stumbles across a nature show about snakes while flipping channels

The top is halved pig’s feet, bottom right is the hocks (or ankle joints), and bottom left is the neck bones.  The neck bones were a last second purchase since the other two ingredients looked a little light on meat.

The feet were unpleasant to handle and look at. Really happy I didn't end up sampling that bag of trotters in Korea. He might never forgive me for saying this, but that little piece at the top looks kind of similar to Conor's thumb from the "Hearts & Bones" post.

It’s a pretty simple dish to make: boil until the meat is falling off the bone, remove the meat and chop coarsely, mix with the cooking liquid, and let set in the fridge.  It can taste really good too, since it’s just tender pork and seasonings, but the texture tends to put people off since a single bite can have a few different textures.

I started out by rubbing a little salt and Chinese five spice into the meat then wrapped up a few cloves and peppercorns into some cheesecloth to boil with the pork.

This is so much better than picking peppercorns and cloves out of the meat

I went with the cloves and five spice because I wanted to add flavors that contrasted with the pork instead of amplified it the way sage or thyme would.  And… that’s it for prep.  At this point it all went into a pot with a bay leaf, a halved onion and water until the meat was completely covered.

"Wow! That looks delicious!" - Nobody

The lid went on, I brought it up to a boil and then reduced the heat to simmer for 3+ hours.  The sign I was looking for was the meat separating from bone.

You can almost see how loaded with gelatin the broth was after 3 hours

I removed all of the pork from the pot and strained out the onion, bay leaf, and spice package.  After letting the reserved liquid settle and skimming off some fat, I returned the broth to the stovetop to reduce a bit.

Whenever this liquid dripped onto the counter it turned into a solid gelatinous blob within seconds

Due to all of the skin, and the grey color of boiled meat, the pork still didn’t look very pleasant.  But there was tender meat hiding on each unfortunate looking piece.

The previous statement actually isn't true; the feet, since they were primarily just the toes, had nothing on them but gelatinous tendon and fat. Also, my fingers had to be washed every minute or so because the gelatin made them too sticky to use

There’s really no need for more pictures like that, and Kristi refused to take action shots, so I will describe instead of show what I discovered.

After peeling off the skin and fat, each hock had some very large chunks of meat, similar to what you would expect on a lamb shank.  The neck bones had meat that looked like pork shoulder, but were more of a pain to handle due to tiny bones and small, although plentiful, pieces of meat.  I may have found an average of one morsel of edible material on each foot.  All that picking left me with this:

A little less than a pound of tender pork...

...compared to about 4 pounds of bone, fat, and skin. As I said, the cheap per-pound pricing didn't necessarily make it a great deal

I sorted through the meat a few times to make sure there weren’t any pieces of bone, fat, or cartilage that would make for an unpleasant bite, then chopped up the larger chunks.  From there I seasoned with lots of salt and pepper, about a teaspoon of cayenne, and a little onion powder.

Starting to look more like food

In the interest of cutting the richness, I added a good pour of apple cider vinegar to the meat, probably about 3 tablespoons, then a ladle of the reduced cooking liquid.

Not sure why I like the pour shots, but they have become a consistent theme on this blog

Stirred that well and dumped the entire bowl into an 8″ loaf pan.  Once it settled, I poured a half ladle more of the cooking liquid over the top and it was ready to be covered and head into the fridge to set.

About how I expected it to look, the extra ladle of liquid disappeared into the meat

After a few hours spent at dinner (Stella, one of our favorite restaurants in Boston) and a championship high school lacrosse game (St. Johns Prep vs. Duxbury) we headed back to check on the head cheese.

Looks about the same...

...but not when you turn it upside down and pop it out of the loaf pan

From there, you slice off a piece at a time.

Every slice is a little different, but the flavor and mix of textures is pretty consistent

This one was a little closer to the restaurant variety since the meat was relatively dense despite all of the liquid that was added.  To make something closer to the deli case version, you’d add more of the cooking liquid so that the meat would be floating in gelatin.

The first bite was a little tough for me, which isn’t a new thing for the meals on this blog.  Sometimes you can’t get the image or smells of the raw ingredients out of your head.  Happened with the chicken slaughter, happened with the pig’s stomach, and now them pig’s toes were really getting to me.  As with the others, one bite was all I needed to forget all that and start enjoying it.

Served on a toasted slice of a homemade sandwich bread that I am enjoying every iteration of as I try to get it right

The terrine had a clean pork flavor that was most similar to cold pulled pork shoulder, but with less of a fatty taste.  You could taste hints of the cloves, black pepper, and apple cider vinegar that helped cut the richness a bit.  Best served with some pickles, dijon or spicy brown mustard, and, for Conor and I, a little bourbon.

I alternated between terrine on toast with dijon mustard and terrine with a mini dill pickle on top. Also, Jefferson's bourbon was a new one for me, but a good one

All in all, I think it was pretty tasty and I’ve heard concurring views from Conor, Tim, and Mommy Ryan.  If I did it again, which I might if I am in charge of a cheese or charcuterie plate (you’ve been warned), I would use only the hocks and a much smaller loaf-style pan as a mold.  Spices would stay the same, though I’d add a little more salt.

Not sure what is up next.  Would like to do some sort of seafood since it’s the summer, but will need to think of something interesting.  Feel free to email suggestions.