Ask a group of chefs about bone marrow and you’re almost certain to encounter unabashedly devilish smiles and descriptions like “sexy,” “God’s butter,” and “the essence of pure flavor.” Marrow isn’t exactly a new idea; studies suggest that Paleolithic man may have eaten marrow for protein, and everyone from poor medieval peasants to English royalty have espoused its virtue. (Rumor has it that England’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, ate marrow every day, probably as a health food.) Today, bone marrow has become a staple for modern diners in the know who relish its rich flavor, and now it’s making itself at home on several menus in Westchester.
So what exactly is bone marrow? It’s the soft, fatty tissue found inside the femur bone, and most of what is served in restaurants is beef or veal. Cooked marrow can aptly be described as a cross between butter and beef, with all the decadence of butter and a flavor that resembles the fatty, rendered cap of a prime rib. The texture is an equally important part of the experience and should be both spreadable and meltingly soft. Bone marrow has incredible versatility. It can be served roasted as a stand-alone dish, or can be rendered into a sort of beefy elixir to adorn a whole range of dishes.
For a traditional take on bone marrow, head to Fortina in Armonk or Rye Brook, where chef and Chopped champion Christian Petroni roasts split bones in wood-burning ovens to imbue them with smoky flavor. The bones are served with classical accompaniments—sweet caramelized onions, bright parsley salad for a hint of freshness, flaked sea salt, and toast. “It’s just unctuousness on toast,” says Petroni, who acknowledges that getting sloppy with your meal is part of the enjoyment. For less adventurous eaters, order the funky funghi pizza: Pungent Taleggio cheese is topped with oysters and shiitake mushrooms (roasted with rosemary to accentuate their earthiness). The pie is then given a scattering of marrow that melts into glistening pools with a rich, beefy flavor that echoes the meaty qualities of the mushrooms. It’s the one item that Petroni and co-owners John Nealon and Rob Krauss insist hasn’t changed since opening.
Marrow pizza at The Parlor is an unusual—and delicious—order.
For a bolder take on marrow pizza, stop by The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry, where Chef David DiBari is producing beautiful pies topped with serious quantities of marrow. He starts by spreading chopped marrow over his dough in quantities akin to mozzarella on a normal pie. (“If I’m going to the chair,” he muses, “it’s going to be bone marrow.”) It’s then topped with thinly sliced garlic and rosemary, salty Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and a drizzle of vin cotto, a syrupy, reduced vinegar that adds a sweet kick “It’s sort of light but glutinous because there’s not a lot covering the pie, but the flavors are rich,” says DiBari. The blistered crust acts as a perfect vehicle to sop up any marrow that drips back onto the pan.
Down the road at The Cookery, DiBari is serving up rigatoni with bone marrow, softened onions, and Madeira wine. The marrow replaces the typical butter or oil and, along with the salted, starchy water from the pasta, melts to create a silky glaze over the noodles, a technique that DiBari picked up during his tenure at Babbo. The resulting dish, despite its richness, is surprisingly delicate with just a hint of sweetness, and is finished with a roasted bone, the contents of which can be easily coaxed into the dish for an extra beefy punch.
Bone marrow is being used in two dishes at recently opened Campagna at Bedford Post. Executive Chef PJ Calapa, who is also the executive chef at Michael White’s Manhattan restaurants Ai Fiori and Costata, wants “people to see bone marrow from a different angle,” so he’s using it as an alternative to traditional fats. A short rib risotto, colored red with Barolo wine, is finished with chunks of bone marrow as a butter substitute, adding extra depth without overwhelming other flavors. A New York strip steak is accompanied by panzanella drizzled with melted marrow instead of olive oil. Bitter, slightly wilted greens, charred scallions, sweet cipollini onions, and aged, sweet balsamic vinegar balances the rich marrow. My only regret: I didn’t save any of the crusty bread served before my meal to dip in the pool of marrow and balsamic that remained in the cast iron pan in which it’s served.
Crabtree’s whole-roasted Angus beef bones are paired with pretzel bread crostini topped with marrow and braised beef cheeks.
In the dining room at the stately Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, Chef Jay Lippin uses carefully sourced ingredients from local farms to put a twist on one of bone marrow’s most familiar roles, osso buco. Literally translated, “osso” means bone, and “buco” refers to the hole in which a small nugget of marrow softens as the meat simmers. At the Kittle House, a venison shank gently braised in red wine and spiced with juniper berries contains a spoonful of marrow that is mild and not too gamey (the deer are farm-raised in Germantown, New York). On a recent visit, I was served an indulgent special—the menu changes frequently—of whole-roasted bones of grass-fed Angus beef from Mountain Brook Farm in Hillsdale, New York. Supple spoonfuls of marrow were draped over pretzel bread crostini and topped with meltingly tender braised beef cheeks.
With so many ways to enjoy marrow, you don’t have to be an adventurous eater to try it.
Now if someone in Westchester would follow the lead of Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw Ice Cream Shop and make bone marrow and Bourbon cherry ice cream, that would make the county’s bone marrow options even more diverse.