Marrow Escape

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If you were to look at my old man's life resume, a laundry list of bullet points would be on display under the "Skills" heading. Among his wide and varied talents would be the following:

  • Throat Punching
  • Beer Drinking
  • Marrow Extracting

It could be argued that both "Throat Punching" and "Beer Drinking" are hobbies rather than skills, so I'll focus on the last item in that list for now: Marrow Extracting. Or, to put it more plainly–sucking the fatty and unctuous meat-flavored butter from animal bones. Yum!

Ah yes, bone marrow. A delicacy that seems to be catching on in many fine dining establishments these days, but something that many cultures have been feasting on for thousands of years–or at least since the 80's.

I remember many a meal at our dinner table when I was a wee lad–before I discovered the joys of marrow consumption.  My brothers and I were always instructed to give our leftover bones, from whatever we were eating, to my father. Then, with gustatory glee, my father deftly (and loudly) sucked the marrow from the bones of the creatures felled for our dinner: chicken legs, pork ribs, beef shanks, magical unicorn horns, etcetera etcetera.

Such behavior always seemed to leave my mother appalled, whereas I thought it was fairly awe-inspiring. As they say, the kalamansi doesn't fall far from the tree–I've taken quite a liking to the fatty, tasty goo found at the center of hollow bones. And for the longest time, due to my upbringing, I thought eating bone
marrow was the norm. But it turns out that (besides vegetarians) there
are those who are kinda grossed out by the whole idea of eating bone
marrow. Strange, that.

For example, my wife and I recently joined a couple of friends for an Italian dinner at a nice restaurant. One of the appetizers on the menu was "Roasted Bone Marrow"–which I immediately ordered with zero hesitation.  When the platter of three-inch thick, oven-roasted beef bones (I'm guessing from the shank) arrived at our table, I gleefully scraped the gelatinous mass from their bony containers, spread the goo on some toast points and sprinkled on some sea salt and parsley leaves. It was good. Sinfully, deliciously good.

After a couple of delectable bites of the marrow-spread bread, I shook myself from my crazed carnivorous haze to find the rest of my table looking at me as if I had just eaten a baby.  Sure, everyone had a taste of the marrow that night, but it seemed I was the only one who truly enjoyed that appetizer–I ended up finishing the whole thing myself (not that I'm complaining).

I guess eating bone marrow could be a cultural thing–not everybody grows up with a dad that inhales the innards of animal bones. And not everyone grows up with Bulalo, AKA "Bone Soup"–an incredibly easy, yet delicious, Filipino soup made from beef shanks and bone marrow.

Lucky me.

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To make Bulalo, all yous has to do is get your hands on some bone-in beef (beef shanks are best because of their easily extractable marrow, but my mom sometimes uses beef short ribs), place the beef in a big pot, throw in some veggies, cover with water, season with some salt or patis, and simmer for a few hours. That's it.

No, really. That's all you have to do.

In most Bulalo recipes, the beef isn't seared or browned at all–which I think is a wasted opportunity for more flavor.  Also, I've found that many recipes require corn on the cob to be thrown into the pot as well.  But I was always turned off by this because the diner is then supposed to fish out the corn cob from his soup bowl and eat the hot and drippy corn with his hands. And, as some of my regular readers may know, I can't leave well enough alone. So I tinkered a bit with this recipe, specifically with the cooking of the beef and of the corn.

Instead of throwing everything into a big boiling pot, I actually grilled the beef shanks for a few minutes on each side–they weren't completely cooked through yet, but they were nicely charred on the outside.  I was afraid of this little experiment because I wasn't sure if I'd lose the luscious marrow to the flames of the grill.  But the marrow actually stayed intact and in the bone.

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After grilling the shanks, I then placed them in a big Dutch oven and covered them with water and let the pot simmer for an hour. After the first hour, I added a sliced onion and simmered for another hour, then I added some potatoes, and then some baby bok choy.

Meanwhile however, after grilling my shanks I didn't let my hot grill go to waste as I also grilled some corn while still in the husk. Grilling corn in its husk keeps the kernels from drying out but still provides for a smoky flavor.

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I then removed the kernels from the cob and set the kernels aside for later.  When the soup was done, I simply added the grilled corn kernels to the soup bowl–the corn was already cooked, but I didn't have to fish out a whole cob to get to them!

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Is it necessary to go to all that trouble to grill the meat and the corn? No. In fact, Oggi has a wonderful recipe for a traditional Beef Bulalo over at her blog.

But I found that grilling adds a very nice smokiness to the finished dish and the beef broth was more flavorful and rich.

But let's face it. The best part of Beef Bulalo is the bone marrow within the beef shanks.  And it'd be a damn shame to make this dish and not indulge a bit in the marrow, no?

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Grilled Beef Bulalo with Grilled Corn
Serves 2-4

2 large beef shanks
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ears of corn, still wrapped in their husks and soaked in water for 15 minutes
10 cups of water
3 Tablespoons patis
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, sliced
1 pound potatoes, cut into large chunks
4 baby bok choy, chopped

Season the beef shanks with salt and pepper, then drizzle with oil to prevent sticking to grill.  Place beef shanks on a grill over direct high heat cook for 3-5 minutes per side until nicely charred. Remove shanks from grill and set aside.

Place corn on grill over direct high heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, turning the corn every few minutes.  The husks will burn and ash, but this is ok. After the husks have burned, the corn will be done.  Remove corn from grill and let cool.

Place the beef shanks in a deep pot, or Dutch oven, and cover with water.  Add the patis, lemon juice, and bay leaf. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for one hour.

Meanwhile, remove the husks from the corn. Using a knife, remove the kernels of corn from the cob.  Set the corn kernels aside for later.  Place the corn cobs in the pot with the beef and water.

After the beef has simmered for an hour, add the onions and simmer for 30 minutes.  Next, add the potatoes. If there is not enough liquid in the pot at this point, add more water if needed.  Simmer for another 30-45 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Remove pot from heat and remove and discard the corn cobs. Place the bok choy in the pot, cover and let sit for 5 minutes until the bok choy is cooked through.  Taste the broth for seasoning, and add more patis as desired.

Portion out the corn kernels in individual serving bowls, then ladle in the Bulalo from the pot. Serve immediately with kalamansi and patis on the side.

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  • manggy April 13, 2008, 9:54 pm

    SACRILEGE!!! Kidding. I think what you’ve done here is a step in the right direction :)
    I’ve actually not had marrow before (SACRILEGE!!!). I’m not exactly sure why. I think I may still be deterred, though, by my ever-expanding waistline and the fact that after I eat crab fat I get so freaked out about having angina that I end up with an anxiety attack (kidding… this has not happened… But the greasy gold did not do it for me).

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  • dp April 13, 2008, 11:14 pm

    Sucking on bones is definitely a cultural thing. I grew up doing it and though nothing of it. In fact, we never got boneless, skinless, white meat anything ever. Hubby, who is Danish, doesn’t enjoy his food when he has to eat around the bones. He’s worse than my 5-year old, who eats drumsticks and chews on T-bones with gusto.

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  • NJ Julie April 14, 2008, 4:58 am

    I’ve been mocked in the past for not being a “true Filipino” because I don’t eat kare-kare, pinakbet, and balut. Alas, I don’t eat bulalo either! Eeeep! =(

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  • veron April 14, 2008, 5:57 am

    Oh Gawd, that looks like a great dish to have right now…can just imagine it with some hot rice, soy and calamansi for sawsawan. Your story of coaxing the marrow out reminded me of my fond memory right here :
    http://kitchenmusings.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/12/a_savory_braise.html

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  • Ruy April 14, 2008, 7:52 am

    You know what, I think that’s just brilliant. If I were to put up a restaurant I’d feature that as the house special.
    “Inihaw na Bulalo”
    I’d have to pay you of course.
    Seriously, I love the idea.

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  • Janice April 14, 2008, 8:07 am

    mmm…my mom calls that nilaga…i was the only person who’d eat the marrow, though. My dad used to, but now he’s vigilant about his cholesterol levels (which is the same reason he stays away from dinuguan). hey, have you thought of cooking up some chocolate meat? :)

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  • bernadette April 14, 2008, 8:25 am

    I recall my most delicious bulalo—in a small cafeteria (we call carinderia) somewhere along a highway in the province of Pampanga. Our trip happened to be in the wee hours of the morning and so everyone was either fighting off sleep or getting off the irritability of trying to get some sleep in the bus. But the stopover’s bulalo was heaven-sent! It had lots of pepper, the soup scalding hot and because it was about 4 hours boiling, the beef meat and marrow just melted in our mouths!

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  • Matt Hurst April 14, 2008, 9:21 am

    I am glad to have enjoyed my first bone marrow experience with you and while it does taste like meat-flavored butter, I guess I am a traditionalist and would opt for something else. I appreciated the taste and could see the love people have for sucking on bones, but unfortunately I am not one of them.

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  • oggi April 14, 2008, 9:38 am

    I love your idea of grilling the meat and corn before boiling. I agree with Ruy, it’s brilliant!
    In my house I’m the only one who loves marrow. The husband is not a “true” Filipino because he doesn’t eat lechon, bulalo, sisig, balut, pig ears…which is good because I get to eat all the good stuff.:)

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  • raissa April 14, 2008, 10:46 am

    yummy! I am not a big fan of marrow but I dont hate it either. I will eat it if it finds its way to my bowl. I like it with some toyomansi. I feel like having some right now =)
    BTW, theres a hotel in Vegas that serves bulalo I think its the California Hotel or something in the old strip. They serve it at midnight I think. Its pretty good.

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  • Burnt Lumpia April 14, 2008, 4:05 pm

    That’s OK, manggy. I don’t think I’ve had crab fat before, so we’ll call it even;)
    Hi dp! Your 5-year old sounds like a true gourmand!
    Hello NJ Julie. I’m sure you are still very Filipino;) I’ve never had balut either.
    Hi veron! I absolutely love Osso Buco. Though I make it with veal and not lamb. And of course, I eat the marrow in that too!
    Wow, thanks Ruy! I’m glad you like the idea.
    I’ve heard it called nilaga too, Janice. I have thought of chocolate meat, but I don’t know where I’d get pigs blood from. I should look into that though.
    That sounds so good bernadette! That bulalo must’ve been the best breakfast.
    Depending on one’s point of view, Hurst, different “traditionalists” will opt for different things. And I’m glad there was more marrow for me!
    Thanks oggi! Sounds like you get all the goodies in your household;)
    Bulalo in Vegas, raissa? I’ll have to investigate that next time I’m there.

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  • quiapo April 14, 2008, 5:11 pm

    I am sure you have tried the Italian “Osso Bucco” which to me is the quintessential preparation of bone marrow. If you rummage around antique shops you will find bone marrow scoops from the Victorian era, which make comsumption look less feral, and are effective in scraping the bone cavity clean. The solid silver ones are expensive, but silver plated is still reasonably priced.

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  • grace April 14, 2008, 7:25 pm

    As soon as I saw that empty bone marrow on your post, all I could think of was ‘sip-sip’ — although, sip sip’ ing is kind of hard with bone marrow from what I remember as a little girl, but it is possible. Congrats on your kicked up Bulalo!

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  • Chuck April 14, 2008, 8:34 pm

    I love bone marrow. My grandma would roast up a bunch of beef bone to make a stock and I would pick at the marrow when it would come out of the oven. So tasty!

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  • Jen Tan April 14, 2008, 9:50 pm

    Wow!!!! The Bulalo soup and grilled bulalo and corn looks sooooo good! Marvin..can you belive I don’t eat marrow? hahah Yes..I eat bulalo soup..just the soup..kase it’s yummy…if osso buco..just the meat part…the marrow kinda scares me…you know the consistency and all! hahaha
    I love inihaw na mais!!!

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  • Mila April 15, 2008, 7:44 am

    A fellow marrow eater! Yahoo for us. The others don’t know what they’re missing so let’s not share it with them hehehehe. My dad and I always shared the loot of bones since no one else ate it. I would scoop it out on my rice and eat it like that. So so yummy! Heart Attack City, who cares!

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  • raissa April 15, 2008, 11:00 am

    I will ask my uncle which hotel exactly since he was the one who brought us there. Oh and you can order rice too. I think its near Fremont.

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  • Babette April 15, 2008, 3:53 pm

    Love it and hate it at the same time. LOL I love it for the taste but I know I should hate it for health reasons. :( But that does not stop me from indulging in nilaga and bulalo once in a while. I was surprised when I read several years ago that some restaurants are offering roasted bone marrow. I would love to order it but I’m sure hubby will give me the evil eye while I’m enjoying it. LOL

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  • Erin April 16, 2008, 6:44 am

    Ohh. . .I love marrow. I can’t wait for a chilly day to give it a go in your soup.

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  • Wandering Chopsticks April 16, 2008, 9:57 pm

    I used to suck the marrow out of bones when I was a kid. If I do that now, my mom looks aghast b/c of cholesterol fears. But it’s not like I eat that more than a few times a year at most. So I say enjoy it when you can.

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  • Julie April 16, 2008, 10:52 pm

    Oh man, yum. I haven’t had this dish since high school. My parents always just called them “big bones.” She’d add cabbage and winter melon to the soup, and we’d eat it over rice. Now I really wish I had a big bowl of it …

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  • Cynthia April 17, 2008, 7:59 pm

    This post makes me long to be in Guyana where I can get some of these bones.

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  • arcee April 18, 2008, 7:15 am

    Yours is the best looking bulalo I’ve ever seen. Usually, I’d use beef chuck and throw it in the pressure cooker with water and as many heads of garlic as I can stand. Then when the meat would finish cooking, I’d throw in green onion and patis.
    But wow, fancy fancy and it looks *good*.

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  • inuyaki April 18, 2008, 8:09 am

    This looks sooooo good. I just got done making a Beef Bourguignon with some fat, juicy bone-in short ribs (but not much marrow yield) and was going to move on to trying my hand at Kaldereta, but now I may give Bulalo a shot. Sucks that it’s getting warm. I wish I started this braising kick I’m on four months ago!

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  • desie the maybahay April 20, 2008, 6:01 pm

    slurp. that bulalo looks wonderful.
    great idea to grill the meat and corn first.

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  • White On Rice Couple April 20, 2008, 10:44 pm

    Kudos to you on this post Marvin! We were just talking about this the other day…bone marrow is not “new” . So many cultures have been eating this stuff for centuries. These cultures need to be credited to having some awesome beef marrow dishes too. Good job on the post and these dishes!

    Reply
  • elmomonster April 23, 2008, 8:39 am

    Lovely. I’ve had marrow as a kid, but not lately. Then I saw those countless Bourdain episodes where he ate it, just like you described…since I’m not much of a cook these days, I’ll just have to scope out a restaurant that does it that way.

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  • gemma April 23, 2008, 11:38 am

    the french usually roast their marrow bones and serve it exactly the way you described it. it was considered a working man’s delicacy as marrow bones are cheap. nowadays, the dish has crossed the economic divide and is eaten by folks from all walks of life.
    anyway, i felt like i was one of the locals during a dining experience in a paris bistro when i ordered marrow bones and ate it with gusto. my american husband (who does not eat chicken with bones) watched in horror.

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  • Burnt Lumpia April 24, 2008, 9:01 am

    Hi quiapo. Yes, I’ve had osso buco before and it is actually one of my favorite dishes to make. I’ve heard of specialized marrow spoons, but I have yet to see any personally.
    Hi Grace. You definitely can’t be taking any dainty sips of bone marrow, you need to be more barbaric about it;)
    Homemade Stock made with beef bones is a good thing indeed, Chuck.
    Jen, marrow is so tasty. You should definitely give it a try next time you have Osso buco!
    We marrow eaters must stick together, Mila!
    Thanks raissa!
    Bone marrow does seem very unhealthy, doesn’t it Babette? But I’ve read somewhere that it’s actually high in the good kind of cholesterol rather than the bad. But I don’t know how true that is.
    Beef Bulalo is definitely great for chilly days. Thanks for visiting my blog, Erin!
    I agree, WC. I myself don’t eat marrow too often. Everything is good in moderation.
    My mom uses cabbage too, Julie. Mostly just cabbage and onions, but no corn, no potatoes.
    Guyana sounds like my kind of place, Cynthia! 😉
    Thanks very much, arcee! And bulalo in a pressure cooker sounds like a great idea. Now I just need a pressure cooker!
    Hello inuyaki. The warming weather definitely isn’t conducive to more braising.
    Thanks desie!
    Thanks WORC! Hopefully the trend of marrow bones in restaurants will encourage more people to try it.
    Hi Elmo! If you want to get yourself out to L.A., Pizzeria Mozza was where I had the roasted marrow at. I think it was like $12 for three big bones, which was well worth it in my opinion.
    Hello gemma. You’re right, the preparation of the bones I had was very french, even if it was in an italian restaurant. And like you, I did get a lot of strange looks when those bones came out to my table.

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  • JMom April 27, 2008, 9:07 pm

    nice variation on the bulalo. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time.
    I love bone marrow and probably cook dishes using shank mean just because of the marrow. The rest of the family can have the meaty parts :) I’m like your dad. The bones all end up on my plate.

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  • joey April 29, 2008, 1:19 am

    I count marrow extracting as one of my skills too! :) Isn’t it just the best thing in the world??? My dad, brother, and I would fight over it when I was younger. Now I cook my own so it’s all mine…heehee :)
    I love what you’ve done with the corn and the grilling…can’t replicate though as I’ve got nowhere to grill…but cooking the corn separately and taking it off the cob was a clever move that I will try! :)

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  • Piehole May 22, 2008, 5:19 pm

    throat punching – you’re killin me out here. LOVE the marrow – can’t wait to try your version !

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  • rush June 21, 2008, 6:06 am

    sucking bone marrow, i’d say this was one of my dad’s skills, too… probably one of the reasons why he died of MI at the age of 29. scary, i know. but of course, this doesn’t stop me from sucking on marrows… and bulalo is still one of my favorite dishes. :-) btw, i like your blog!

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  • Beth June 22, 2008, 7:26 am

    Grilling the meat is certainly a unique way of doing Bulalo. I think a logical reason as to why the meat isn’t traditionally grilled (besides it not being the norm) is that grilling the meat may lead to an overpowering flavor. Bulalo is more a soup and not a heavy stew, and is meant to be flavorful but still delicate. That’s the balance in Bulalo, and grilling might disrupt that balance because beef and marrow have plenty of flavor already without grilling.
    Hmm … I hope that made sense lol.

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  • Beth June 22, 2008, 7:36 am

    Ruy, “Nilaga” and “Bulalo” are actually different. Nilaga is a cooking method, while Bulalo is a dish that uses the nilaga method but uses a certain cut of meat. It’s just a small technical difference. Bulalo is simply a nilaga dish that uses a certain cut of meat.
    When you think about it, many Filipino dishes are named after the cooking method. “Adobo” is named after the cooking method “inadobo”, same thing for “Nilaga” “Sinigang”, “Kinilaw”, etc.

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  • feyoh July 29, 2008, 9:16 pm

    i remember eating lunch years and years ago with an ex-boyfriend, where we had the bulalo. having been raised in a family of “marrow suckers,” i gleefully slurped out the gelatin from the bone. the look of horror in my ex’s face told me that he won’t be the man i’d be spending my whole life with (nor i will be the woman in his).

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  • Malou September 6, 2008, 3:41 pm

    Hmmm, i’m getting hungry just looking at the picture of your Grilled Bulalo. I can’t wait ’til the weather gets colder here in California to make it. It reminds me of my mom who passed away almost 4 years ago. She used to make it when I was growing up, back in the Philippines. I remember my mom and I were the only ones in our family who ate it. I’m definitely going to try your recipe.

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  • maxie April 22, 2012, 8:30 am

    I know I’m several years late here, but just wanted to comment.
    We (mom, grandmother, me)have always dropped a few meaty shank bones into our spaghetti sauce. Then the cook gets the marrow when the bones are removed. If you were a smart kid, you hung around the kitchen a little before the sauce was done, and Nonna would share the tomato-ey marrow on a piece of her homemade bread. Heaven!

    Reply

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