It’s an iconic restaurant dish: a platter of pale bones, sliced open to expose the wobbling, custardy marrow within. On the side is a slab of toasted country bread, some coarse sea salt and perhaps some fried shallots or parsley for a crunchy, herby contrast to all that savory softness. It’s a dish you’ve at least seen a hundred times before on menus, even if you’ve never ordered it yourself.
The interesting thing about roasted marrow bones is that before 1992, there wasn’t one restaurant in America serving it. Yes, marrow lovers could still get their fix by excavating a veal shank bone at the end of an osso buco. And the truly intrepid traveler could certainly fly to France. But here in the U.S., marrow bones were the cook’s treat, the prize that you got at the end of simmering a vat of veal stock if you had the wherewithal to fish the bones out of the pot.
So what happened in 1992 to change all that? Eric and Bruce Bromberg opened Blue Ribbon restaurant in SoHo, that’s what. The brothers had spooned up their share of marrow while training as chefs in Paris, and brought the tradition back home with them. Blue Ribbon, which was and still is open until 4:00 am, quickly became an after work hangout for chefs. At first, the Brombergs had to give the bones away, no one ordered them. But they quickly caught on, both at the restaurant and across the country.
I encountered the dish (and the Brombergs for that matter) when I worked on their cookbook, and the bones have become a staple at my house too. First of all they are a fantastic, unexpected dinner party dish—meaty, oily, savory, like butter but more intense and beefier. And, even better, making them is easier than you’d think, once you manage to procure the bones.
The Brombergs usually roast their bones in a hot oven. But grilling works too, and is a fine way to ease into the richness of cold weather cooking without having to turn on the stove during what we all hope will be the last few weeks of summer.
Grilled Marrow Bones with Onion Marmalade and Fried Parsley
Adapted from Eric and Bruce Bromberg of Blue Ribbon
8 Center-cut beef marrow “pipe” bones, cut into 2-inch pieces, or split beef marrow “canoe” bones, cut into 4-inch pieces
Kosher salt, as needed
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 bunch parsley, leaves picked, rinsed, and completely dried
8 (½-inch thick slices) country-style bread
Coarse sea salt, such as French grey, for seasoning
Onion Marmalade (see recipe below), for serving
- Place the bones in a large bowl. Combine ½ cup salt with 6 cups cold water; pour over the bones. If the water does not cover the bones, add a solution of 1 cup water to 2 tablespoons salt at a time, until the bones are covered. Soak bones in the refrigerator for 48 hours. The first day, change the salt water every 8 hours. The second day, change it every 12 hours, until the bones are bleached of color. Drain well. (If you skip this step you can still eat the bones, they just won’t be as stunningly white.)
- Preheat the grill to medium heat (about 350°F). Fill a small pot with 2 inches oil. Place pot on grill and heat oil to 360°F. Fry the parsley leaves, in batches, until they turn deep green, 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle leaves lightly with kosher salt. (You can also do this on the stove.)
- If using vertical pipe bones, place a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the grill grate and arrange bones, upright, on foil. If using canoe bones, lay the bones, marrow-side up, directly on the grill in the direction of the grate so they stay steady. Close cover and cook bones until the marrow is golden, bubbles gently around the edges, and you can easily insert the tip of a knife into the marrow, 10 to 15 minutes. If the marrow turns translucent and begins to separate from the bone, it is overcooked. Use tongs to transfer marrow bones to a spatula, then to a platter.
- Grill the bread slices, uncovered, until golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute.
- Serve marrow bones with thin spoons or knives for spreading, alongside toasts, onion marmalade, parsley and salt.
Makes about 1 ½ cups
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium yellow onions, diced (about 6 cups)
1 cup Ruby Port
¾ cup Sherry vinegar
½ cup light brown sugar
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened and light golden, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the port, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer over medium heat until mixture reduces to a jam-like consistency, 45 minutes to an hour. Cool before serving. Onion marmalade will last for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, and is terrific as a condiment with cheese.