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Nose To Tail
Fergus Henderson has many wonderful quotes. My favorite is his query about why couples shopped for a couch or a TV as their first furniture purchase. He asked plaintively, “Don’t they know that the table comes first?” He is also the chef who co-founded one of the earliest truly nose-to-tail restaurants in London – St John. I loved his cookbook but could find very few takers in the shop. I think it is a shame that we in the US squander a fortune on steaks and chops, and even some pretty premium pricing on hamburger but are squeamish about the other parts of a butchered animal. I live with someone who has a fetish for our ground beef to be exactly 75% ground chuck and 25% beef fat. But he too associates the following discussion with a wish that we could try “it” some other day. And sometimes he is pleasantly surprised when the “it” in question is served.
The Awful Offal
The “its” in question are cuts like lamb kidneys, veal liver, tripe, fish collars and livers, marrow bones — all those lovely bits we never see at a meat or fish counter. I am here to make up for this missing part of your life. This plate of roasted marrow bones with a parsley salad is a classic part of the St John menu. It’s always on offer to diners, and for good reason. For me, marrow is the delicious part of the Italian dish Osso Buco, and any rendition of Risotto Milanese that bears the title should have marrow in the preparation. And if you are like a large percentage of Americans who like to read about health benefits of foods, marrow is your friend. It’s not just fat. It also has loads of glucosamine, which helps with osteoarthritis, and collagen, which is good for maintaining bone health.
Accessorizing Roasted Marrow Bones
We have bought both beef and veal marrow bones from The Organic Butcher in Mclean and Butchers Alley. For Osso Buco and risotto, you want them cut horizontally (in round discs), but for the Fergus Henderson specialty, I prefer them to be cut lengthwise. The bones and marrow should look white and pink, and I would stick with organically raised beef, for obvious reasons. You can also get cute little marrow spoons to use as part of the presentation of this dish, as well as for Osso Buco. You can increase the size of the salad to fit the number of marrow bones you serve. I use more greens and make more of this particular vinaigrette for just the two of us.
You can use toasted slices of baguette, but a good white sandwich loaf is perfect too (we love the one from Maribeth’s Bakery). Fergus Henderson features an all-parsley salad with a bit of fresh tarragon, but one with small arugula leaves or a mixed herb salad with the same vinaigrette and chopped shallots from his recipe is great too. And varieties of fresh herbs are usually featured in many farmers markets starting in the spring. I prefer the larger salted capers from Moulins Mahjoub over the tiny ones preserved in vinegar that are suggested in his recipe.The recipe card is Fergus Henderson’s recipe exactly, but I like the longer marrow bones cut along the length.
A short time in a hot oven allows the marrow to get cooked just enough so that the fat does not melt away. That is the only tricky part of this simple dish – I let them roast too long one time and I had rendered marrow fat and empty bones. Either way you have the bones sliced works for this dish. It’s nice to have a dish of either the large Sel Gris from France or the Maldon Salt flakes from the UK to sprinkle onto the toasts with the roasted marrow.
- 8 to 12 center-cut beef or veal marrow bones, about 4 pounds total, split.
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley. - I use more parsley alone or in combination with other small herby greens
- 3 tablespoons tarragon leaves.
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced.
- 2 teaspoons capers, drained and rinsed. - I prefer the dried salted ones
- Slices of toasted crusty bread
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. - I make more vinaigrette
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice or more to taste
- Preheat oven to 450F
- Put bones in a shallow roasting pan using crinkled foil to hold the bones straight/even.
- Cook in upper third of oven for 15-20 minutes until marrow pulls from the bone. Do not overcook and allow the marrow to liquidize and run off the bones.
- Toss together the parsley, tarragon, shallots and capers. Combine the lemon juice and olive oil, season with salt and white pepper. Dress the salad and serve.
- Remove the marrow bones from oven, season and dress the bones with the salad and serve with toast.
- To serve, it's nice to have a small bowl of either the Sel Gris from France or the flaky salt from Maldon in the UK.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.
My mother was an offal person . . . she’d make a dish of kidneys from various animals (chopped, sauteed with white wine, herbs, onion and most likely garlic) served over toast for breakfast. We also had calf liver quite a lot and she introduced me to marrow, but not in quite the same elegant way. Tripe in soup was served. It’s true that it is very hard to find most offal. But what are fish collars? I know and have had fish cheeks . . . but fish collars seemed a bit out of place with the rest of… Read more »
The international grocery store near me has a lot of offal. I’m sure most others do as well and good butchers.
I here is a quote from Bon Appetit about fish collars
What are collars? Exactly what the name suggests: a cut from along the fish clavicle, right behind the gills. The collar runs from top to bottom (including stiff pectoral fins along the way), with especially rich meat along the belly, ending in a little fat cap. The cut is anchored to the collarbone, but once cooked it separates nicely–and with no smaller bones to navigate. Collars have long been popular in Asia, but we’re only starting to explore them stateside.
Fish collar is the best, and economical too. My father likes to make it seasoned with garlic powder, white pepper, sugar, and soy sauce then broiled or baked in a toaster oven. Super easy weeknight meal, especially tasty if you can get salmon or sable fish collars. I grew up partially in Asia where eating pigs blood, chicken feet, fish maw soup, duck tongue (my personal favorite), beef tongue, oxtail, tripe, etc are all totally normal. There is a whole wide world of textures and flavors out there, and if we are going to sacrifice an animal we should do… Read more »
I am so glad you wrote this! I think there is so much waste in what is offered and cooked here. And yes, the adventure awaits!
I have to admit I haven’t been able to bring myself to try most offal. I have a French country cookbook and there is a big chapter on it. I feel like marrow is more approachable for folks. And I use chicken livers to make pate. They’re like gateway offal. My mom liked liver but dad did not so we’d go to a diner or even Denny’s sometimes just so mom could have it. The Ramona books put me off the idea of tongue and Vicar of Dibley did me in for tripe. I really support tip to tail, but… Read more »
I ate at St John right before the Covid lockdown and these were wonderful. He also has a source for leeks that are so clean and sand-free that they can be roasted whole after trimming.