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.

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