Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Cheesesteak (w/bone marrow “whiz”)

Early in my posting days, I undertook an ambitious attempt at pan cooked beef heart and crispy fried bone marrow.  The marrow came out great, the beef heart less so.  I think the heart’s subpar flavor and texture was due to my organ cooking inexperience, my lack of butchering skills (not that I am Sam from the Brady Bunch now), and generally that what I made was poorly thought out.  I cooked the heart for way too long, in a heavy sauce, and served it over watery greens instead of a starch of some sort.  In 90 degree weather.  Live and learn, but I definitely intended to take another crack at it somewhere down the road.

Three years later and I’m still working my way through the massive amount of organ meat stored in my chest freezer.  So, when faced with a little food boredom last week, I pulled a half beef heart out of the freezer to defrost.  It was the second half (I think) of the heart from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny and it had held up pretty well due to the vacuum sealed freezer bag.

Beef hearts are effing enormous. That's a 7" chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see was very intimidating

Beef hearts are effing enormous.  That’s a 7″ chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see is the most intimidating part of working with animal hearts.  In other news, I didn’t do too good in Biology and I’m pretty sure “crazy crap” is the closest I could come to a medical term to describe what you are seeing

That’s about two and a half pounds of muscle covered by a lot of silverskin and some hardened fat on the outside.  Plus the stuff on the inside that I can’t use my words on.  My plan was to trim off all of the external membrane/fat and any of the funky stuff in the internal chambers.  Once fully trimmed, I expected it to look like a normal (but extremely lean) chunk of meat that I would slice thin to make a cheesesteak from.

A 'lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming.  The piece on th right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slices were the start of the thin slicing

A ‘lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming which left me with what looked like a bloody Lego.  The piece on the right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slivers were the start of the thin slicing

Due to the density of the muscle, the meat was easy to slice thin using the same method as slicing gravlax; press the side of the knife against the meat and shave.  As I got toward the center, it became more difficult to keep the pieces thin so I switched to the other side and sliced until I got to the same point.  The center area I ended up cutting into thicker slabs for later use on the grill.  After slicing was complete, I had this.

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left.  Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend's garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as "Mommys" or "Daddys"

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings, and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left. Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend’s garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as “Mommys” or “Daddys”

With the meat sliced, I placed the thicker pieces in a marinade of miso and a few other ingredients to marinate for a day or so before grilling.  The thin slices went into a separate bag to rest and await cooking in the fridge.

In my opinion, a true Philly Cheesesteak can only use one cheese or cheese like product: Cheez Whiz.  It’s highly processed, probably doesn’t include any dairy, and keeps at room temperature in a jar for years, but good golly does it taste delicious.  The tangy flavor goes so well with fatty beef.  For the purposes of this meal, my ambitious plan for a homage to “whiz” was to use a piece of beef bone marrow instead of butter in a roux, then build a cheese sauce from there.  I got started by putting a piece of marrow in a 450F oven to roast and break down.

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Search marrow for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Look at the Heart and Bones post linked earlier for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save them in the freezer.  You know, for when you need marrow and stuff

While the marrow roasted, I pulled some cheese curds out of the fridge which would be the primary cheese-type ingredient in the cheese sauce.  The curds were maybe slightly past their prime, but given the mild and slightly tangy flavor of cheese curds I thought they would be perfect for my tribute to Cheez Whiz.

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed a solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren't made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed into a mashed together solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren’t made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often.  Also, it’s kind of amazing I’ve been doing this three years and this is my first loving homage to processed cheese, right?

I cut the cheese curds up into thin batons that looked similar to a grated bag of Kraft cheddar, then moved the now broken down roasted marrow to the stovetop.

All it takes to get to this point is a little pressure from the whisk.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the handle out of the 450F oven bare handed by accident

About halfway through roasting, you need to break up the marrow with a fork which lets any remaining fat render and the other pieces crisp a bit.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the pot handle bare handed out of the 450F oven and getting a nice sear on my palm

With the fat fully liquified, I started out the roux by whisking in a little over a tablespoon of flour and cooking it on the stovetop until it started to brown a bit.

The solid bits from the marrow were still relatively solid at this point but started to fall apart

I have no understanding of bone marrow as a cooking ingredient, I just know I like the flavor and it makes sauces better.  I thought it was all fat, but also have heard something (likely nonsense) about how it’s actually a degenerated protein and not as bad for you as fat.  I certainly am unqualified to explain what the crispy chunks are vs the rendered marrow fat

With the roux cooking, I pulled the thin sliced heart meat out of the refrigerator and drained the excess blood from the bag.  The meat headed to a pile of paper towels seasoned with salt and pepper to leach out a bit more of the bloody liquid and hopefully reduce the iron-y flavor of the heart.

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat, very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat. Very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying the cooked version of this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

While the heart meat drained, I began adding milk to the roux to form the based of the cheese sauce.  Once enough milk was added to thin the base to the consistency of gravy, I started to whisk in the cheese curds.

Cheese Curds are at their most questionable at this point since they don't melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  So they took a little longer, but eventually I had this...

This is the point I heavily questioned my own need to use everything in the fridge since cheese curds don’t melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  I berated myself loudly as these took slightly longer to melt than I expected then calmed down when they melted.  Eventually I had this…

...Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not cheese whiz, but it's made out of marrow for cripes sake

…Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not Whiz, but it’s made out of bone marrow for cripes sake

With the sauce bubbling on the stove, I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium/high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter was melted and bubbling, I added the heart meat and half of a sliced white onion.

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

After a few minutes of browning, I gave my best attempt at the Philly tactic of using two metal spatulas to chop and tear the meat to shreds using the sides of the spatulas.  Mostly I just ended up making a lot of noise and sort of tearing a few pieces into slightly smaller pieces.

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat in the pan at the time too, but it was barely enough for one sandwich amazingly

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat at the time, but it was barely enough for one sandwich, amazingly

With the meat fully cooked, I piled it high in the closest thing I could find to the excellent crusty sub rolls from Sarcone’s or Amaroso’s that they use all over Philly.  It was not as close a match as I’d hoped and I knew it would be an exhausting sandwich to eat due to the chewiness of the bread.

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what makes them great

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what separates a great sandwich from the rest.  This was chewy and crispy but not soft

Once the sandwich was loaded up, I put a few large spoonfuls of the marrow whiz over the top of the meat making sure it had enough to soak into the bread.  Then squeezed it closed holding the meat in, cut in half, and did some more squeezing to make sure I could fit it into my mouth for a bite.

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

I ended up eating this whole thing and enjoying it, but you could definitely tell this wasn’t a traditional cheesesteak.  The meat was thin enough to easily bite through, though a little chewier than a normal cheesesteak.  Usually the meat is chewy, but in a cheap shaved meat way, whereas heart meat has a more rubbery consistency since the grain is so tight and there is no fat to break it up.  The flavor wasn’t too far off from normal steak though a little more iron-y, but the onions covered that up well.  The marrow cheese sauce had a ton of flavor and you could tell there was bone marrow in the mix.  Would have been better if I used cheddar and gruyere instead of curds I think, since it would have been sharper and complemented the marrow better.

All in all, a much more successful experiment and something I wouldn’t mind tinkering with again.  The grilled marinated pieces I cooked later in the week weren’t quite as enjoyable since they were just like metallic beef jerky due to dryness.  Here’s a picture for proof, no need to expound on it further, just didn’t want to ignore that this happened.

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope,  I got mineral jerky from this part

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope, I got mineral jerky from this.  Had to sneak it in here or it would have ended up in a Major Dag post

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: Heart and Bones

As I made clear with the Hogs Head post, I am a big fan of challenging myself to cook foods I have never attempted to cook before. We spent the past two months living in our old Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain that has a wealth of grocery stores that carry meats and vegetables you don’t see in many other stores. After wandering the aisles one day earlier this summer, I decided to attempt a meal of ox heart and marrow bones. This post is about that process.

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do with the marrow bones. I’d seen an Iron Chef where they popped the marrow out of the bones and then pan fried them leaving soft pieces of marrow with a crispy outside. Sounded awful for me and delicious, a combination I have relied on over the years for excessive weight gain and torn inseams.

First step in the process was done two days before the meal. The bones were soaked briefly in warm water to loosen the marrow up from the inside.

The stoner working the register said, "let me guess, you have dogs." and then stood there in slackjawed terror as I explained my plans for the bones

This process took place while Kristi was sleeping. Probably for the best

After the bones soaked for 10 minutes or so the marrow had softened enough to pop them out of the bones.  I did this by pushing from one end with my thumb.

I've posted pictures of pigs heads and bug eating, but for some reason this picture seems like the most disgusting one on here. The term "red rocket" comes to mind

This wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be but I was able to successfully harvest the marrow from five of the six bones.  The marrow went into a bowl of heavily salted water and then into the fridge.

Bones were reserved for making stock. I know this doesn't look appetizing...

So I made cupcakes to offset it (actually because Kristi requested them for her birthday). Its her Grandmother's lemon icing recipe which surprisingly didn't call for any organs or bones

Back to the bones and marrow.  The idea is that the salt would pull some of the blood and liquid out of the marrow and make the pieces a little more dense.  I replaced the water with freshly salted water 6 times over the two days and the marrow looked noticeably different by the end.

Although the water looks gross, I was just happy that stuff was getting drawn out of the marrow

For the heart I decided to make a dish that would have similar flavors to a traditional osso bucco.  The first step was to use the leftover bones to make a stock that would be the base for the liquid that the heart meat would cook in.  I started by browning the bones in a pot for 30-40 minutes.

Just bones in a pot with olive oil, celery salt and black pepper

About halfway through the browning I rotated the bones and threw in a handful of onions and carrots.

Really enjoying the super zoom's contributions to this blog

Added 6-7 cups of water plus about 4 ounces of V-8, 4 ounces of red wine and brought it to a boil.

Always makes me happy when the color is right

Lowered the heat to a simmer and left it uncovered while I watched Shutter Island with Buschy.  Pretty dece, though I was a little Leo overloaded after seeing Inception the night before.   This is how it looked after three creepy, atmospheric, and well-cast hours:

Pulled the bones out and poured the rest through a strainer which yielded...

This. I skimmed some fat off once the liquid settled and stuck it in the fridge for use the following night.

With all the major prep work done I was ready to make an unseasonably heavy dinner. On an 85 degree night in a house with no AC.

First course was the pan fried marrow.  All it required was a pan of hot oil and a pile of flour mixed with black pepper.

I had been thinking about this dish for some time and was Christmas morning-level excited at this point. The soaked and dried marrow is on the left.

Into the fryer. Notice the metal backsplash that looks like an insane TGIFridays worker's lapel? That's Con and Trish's magnet collection. But I am a dork for having a blog. YeeeeeeOK guys!

Since marrow is so rich that its almost like the beef version of foie gras, it made sense to accompany it with lemon, parsley, and salt.

This was the piece I fried solo as a test batch. Since I hadn't taken a bite yet, its safe to say I was freaking out at this exact moment

It was definitely nerve wracking cooking each piece since the marrow melts if you cook it too long or it doesn’t get crispy if you cook it too little.

Like churros, but with marrow inside

Crispy outside, soft and buttery inside. I didn't get an in-focus shot because I was rushing so I could eat more

Conman's Lord of the Rings hobbit-style knuckles make their first appearance on the blog

Not sure I would do it again due to the effort required, but it was a pretty solid payoff.  Its tough to describe it, but despite the strong flavors of the parsley and lemon, the most powerful flavor was beef.  But very different than meat.  Rich and decadent.  Again, tough to describe.

I look like a hand model compared to Conor

Now, onto the main course: heart.

Pretty much how you expected it to look

The butcher did some light trimming, removing the gristle-heavy top and adding a few cuts so it could be laid out flat.

Also pretty expected, but I didn't let Buschy see this view so that he wouldn't rule out tasting it

Underneath a lot of membrane, external fat, and gristley areas (venticles is an awful term but that’s what they were), it’s just a giant muscle.  So I butchered the heart down to the best of my (subpar) abilities and then carved it into 1/8th inch thick slices.

When it's broken down, its not that different from raw sliced flank steak. Completely devoid of intramuscular fat, though

We ended up with about a pound and a half of beef from the two+ pound heart.  I used my mom’s veal marsala method for cooking these; lightly flour each slice, quickly sear in a pan with butter and olive oil, then create a sauce in the pan to finish the cooking in.

See, it's just beef

Once the beef was out, carrots, onions and garlic were thrown into the pan to cook for a bit.

The base of pretty much everything I cook

To start the osso bucco-style sauce, I stirred in most of a small can of tomato paste.

It doesn't matter what I ended up mixing in to this, you knew it was going to be edible at this point

At this point, things just started flying into the pot.  First it was the pot of stock I made the day before and a half bottle of red wine.  Once it bubbled, I added some uncooked portabellas, the seared heart meat, and seasoning.  The flour from the strips of meat helped thicken the sauce.

Again, it was over 80 degrees inside the house. This is stick to your ribs, snow day food. Not sure what I was thinking

As it simmered for ~30 minutes, we all seized the opportunity to dip some baguette in the sauce.  The familiar flavors went a long way towards making everyone comfortable with what they’d be eating.

Good god this was delicious. I just wish it was 50 degrees colder outside, not too much to ask I don't think

In the final fifteen minutes of cooking I added a final piece of bone marrow that I had reserved.

Almost forgot about this and would have been very bummed if I had

There was a noticeable difference in the richness of the sauce once the marrow was added

The heart and mushrooms were served over fresh cooked spinach.

Not the prettiest plate of food, but tasty

Some pieces of the meat were a little chewier than I had hoped, should have simmered it lower and slower.  But the flavor was solid, the meat definitely had more flavor than regular beef.

See, its just beef

And once we’d finished all the meat, there was still sauce to dip in.

I made Con and Trish save the leftover sauce in their freezer. I am a jerk.

I wouldn’t change anything about how I did the marrow, but I would have made some changes on the heart dish.  Less flour (to make the sauce thinner for simmering), more time for the meat to simmer, and serve it over something heartier than spinach like lightly mashed skin-on potatoes.  The flavor was right but it wasn’t everything I had hoped.

And that was wayyyyy too long a post.  Off to Italy for 10 nights, will have a cluster-eff of posts when I return hopefully.