Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastropes, I’m your host and Kaiju Supreme, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is something of a happy accident. As I mentioned last week, I had intended to include a recipe for roasting beef marrow bones to spotlight their potential as an unusual snack. When that post got a little more LiveJournal-ly than I intended, I ended up without the room to include it. Which in retrospect is great, because spent like, 4 hours rendering beef fat in February, and haven’t had a useful time to talk about it since. So, today let’s dive into the parts of beef that aren’t the meat, and learn just what they’re like to eat. Rhyming!
What Lies Beneath
You may recall that, around this time last year, I was making a big thing about cooking offal, the term for the assorted organs and connective tissues that the West tends not to eat when cooking its meat. Today’s recipes are not, technically, for offal. We may have some in the near future, but, as my constant complaining should tell you, I’ve been having an offal enough time as it is. Shit. That joke relies on pronunciation. Stupid Jon! Anyway, yeah neither bone marrow nor fat fall into the classical definition of offal. They’re a stratum under it, of sort of “meat fundamentals”, that get overlooked in the modern kitchen. (Good use of the singular for strata, Jon. Good recovery.)
Which isn’t to say they’re universally unappreciated, oh no. “Fried in Beef Fat” is almost universally agreed to be the best type of French fry or other potato product. Beef Marrow, while not very popular, is quite well-regarded in the circles that consume it for being the ultimate savory flavor experience. The recent craze for “bone broths” as a health tool is derived from the simple fact that stocks made using bone marrow have a better flavor AND mouth-feel.
I've never liked the word "mouth-feel". The word itself is sticky in the mouth somehow.
Why then are they so under-utilized? World War 2, but not for the reason you may think. This has nothing to do with rationing, but rather, with economics: as I really, truly hope isn’t surprising to hear, America spends and makes a TON of money off of war. Like, literal physical tons of money. Like, 9 million dollars is the value of one ton of $100 bills. It’s also the cost of one minute of Super Bowl commercial time in 2015, or the (adjusted for inflation) cost of an M1- Abrams tank, of which we have somewhere around 10,000. So, you know, 10,000 tons of money, or 90 billion dollars. Which, worth noting, is simultaneously right around the total net worth of Bill Gates ($86 billion), and barely less than the US spent on the Department of Housing And Community in 2016.
You see it, there? The thin lavender wedge? Now look down at the big goldenrod section for the military.
Yes, as you can see, there’s a shit ton of money being moved around here. But, rather than dive into the military-industrial complex and the associated issues, I will take the wise man’s course and call out…international corporations…I’m beginning to suspect I’m not all that wise after all.
My lack of wisdom aside, what was interesting about World War 2 from an economic standpoint was the weird confluence of patriotism, profit, and industry. In the 1940’s and 50’s, if you were an American corporation, you were likely somehow involved in serving America’s military interests, as it was seen as the patriotic thing to do. Even if you didn’t want to commit on that level, the sheer buying power of the government was inescapable. Seriously, the width and depth of government spending and civilian reaction has never been seen since. As a small example: M&Ms were originally sold exclusively to the military, their resistance to melting being seen as a way to ensure troops could get chocolate.
This 1941 ad seems to imply the troops desperately needed that chocolate to get laid, so God bless Mars Incorporated for their service.
It was after the war ended that a lot of companies found themselves facing an issue: I just spent millions making instant meals/drink mixes/various materials and machines for the troops overseas, and hired hundreds to produce them…and now the troops are home. What the hell do I do? The answer was easy: Just start selling that shit at home. This marked the beginning of the ‘instant’ meal phenomenon, and a restructuring of the American household.
It was at this point that American really moved away from the idea of growing our own foods, slaughtering animals, using every part of the beast, and so on. We became a nation of the future, where machines did the work for us! This would later have a spree of unexpected results in American health concerns, as well as fascinating waves of market actions that caused unforeseen effects, that lead to later reactionary actions. (Some studies imply that one of the major causes of the modern American obesity epidemic is, paradoxically, the great ‘fat scare’ of the late 70’s: Our drive to create lower-fat foods caused foods to include more sugar to compensate for lost flavor, and sugar more readily creates addictive behavior and consumption than fat. Note that these statements are by some jackass on the interest who already called himself an idiot once this post, and not a trained doctor. Please do your own research.) Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about food or something, not macro-economics and market reactions?
Render? I hardly know ‘er!
How very inappropriate, Title Jon. Thank you. Now, the first part of this post comes from February, back when life held joys, the future was hopeful, and…people thought a Baywatch movie with Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson could be a good idea.
AS I noted back in Kitchen Catastrophe 63, my family got their hands on a massive log of beef tenderloin for Valentine’s Day. This led to a fair bit of beef trimming, which in turn led to a problem: we had probably 3 pounds of meat that we didn’t want to eat, but that our frugal Irish nature prohibited us from just throwing away. Luckily, we saw this coming quite some time ahead, and so I had already looked up what we could do, and found the answer quite simple: render the fat out of it.
A process that is, while great, not particularly great-looking. Which describes many awesome things, some of which may be writing this very blog...
Nah, just kidding, I'm fucking fabulous.
Now, normally this is where I’d leap into a whole discussion on how rendering shaped various industries, and how things you may not otherwise understand can be explained by it. (For instance, when it says stuff like “Beef meal” in dog food, it means “Beef scraps that have had the fat rendered from them, and have essentially become dust.”.) But honestly I did a whole thing about economies already, and my rhetorical refractory period isn’t up yet, so instead, I’ll make a quick set of simple pros for why you should do it:
1. It gets you rendered beef fat, which will store in your fridge for months, and can be used in any application that would want animal oils to add beefy flavor.
2. It’s mind-blowingly easy.
3. It makes your house smell awesome.
Hopefully those point convinced you, because here’s the process: toss your scraps of beef and fat into a cast iron pan, and put them in a 200-250 degree oven for like, 4 hours. Pour the resulting fat through a simple strainer, and into a container. MORE RHYMING.
Put that fat in the glass
If you don't, I'll -recommend you avoid thin plastic containers in the beginning because the thermal capacity of fat could warp their structure.
Damn, lost it.
Moving on. Over the rendering process, the beef will brown, the fat will liquefy, and the house will get this rich, meaty smell. Then you pour the fat in a jar, and let it cool to use later. Convenience meets delicious.
No Bones About It
Where the beef fat was a happy moment of culinary recycling from a different initial plan, the Roasted Bone Marrow was a deliberate act of culinary experimentation meant as a potential kindness, which ran afoul of reality.
The basics of it are simple enough: bone marrow is one of the most calorically dense foods on the planet. A 100 gram serving has almost 800 calories, putting it between Butter and Lard in terms of calories, which are of course fantastic company to have. The difference between marrow and those other two comes in an important place: Protein. While both butter and lard have essentially negligible protein, Bone Marrow has a fair amount. Not a ton, roughly as much as an egg, but that mixture of protein and fat made bone marrow very appealing to pre-industrial mankind.
I want to bring up that this may be the cleanest, whitest things middle peasants ever saw, but that feels almost racist. I don't know how, but it does.
So, when doctors said my dad needed more calories in his diet, but they needed to be from soft foods, bone marrow jumped to the front of my mind. Thus began my great quest to find bone marrow. Which was pretty easy. Turned out you can get it in my local Fred Meyer. And in the Market near my dad’s oncologist. And then, bone marrow acquired, I made an entirely different recipe, because my impulses are perverse and without reason. That recipe may show up on the site later, as it was for broth that we haven’t actually eaten yet. It was part of the whole Easter breakdown period I talk about in KC 63, and we ended up freezing the broth for later. IT wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I bought a larger batch of bones to roast, to get my dad to try the marrow and see if he would eat it.
Given his picky eating habits and his ongoing intestinal issues, it wasn’t a guaranteed sell. In fact, he threw a fit at the very idea of it, to which we said “Well, we’ll see if that’s how you feel when the time comes.” SPOILERS: We actually don’t.
What ended up happening was we got busy, and some of the bones… went bad? We couldn’t tell. They were past their expiration date, and they smelled kinda weird. But we have no frame of reference for how they SHOULD smell, and a quick search online showed me that ‘my marrow bones smell weird’ is a really common issue with inexperienced marrow cooks. So I grabbed the best looking half of them, and roasted them for the 3/4s of the family WITHOUT compromised immune systems. Because in my opinion, it’s the occasional risky meal that keeps your immune system strong.
Risk is, to some, its own reward.
In the end, I think I cooked mine too long, using a longer recipe to err on the side of caution. As you can see, there was little left to eat by the end of cooking. But what was there was fine. It was hot, rich, and sopped into bread quite nicely. It tasted like, well, meat-butter. There wasn’t a lot of it, and so the effort felt a touch wasteful, perhaps decadent, but I’d certainly eat it again on a day where I was better managing my time and ingredients.
Both preparations consisted of simple steps for flavorful results. While they might not work as central snacking options, they can work in a variety of enterprises, and create opportunities to dig deeper into your meal options. While not particularly dramatic, I think both of these culinary experiments make the cut.
THURSDAY: JON’S BACK IN LEAVENWORTH, FOR A BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.
Rendered Beef Fat
1-4 pounds beef scraps and trimmed fat
1. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees. Place your scraps and fat in a large cast iron skillet, and place the skillet in the oven. (Some recipes state you should only cook trimmed fat, so if you wish to be very precise, feel free. Me, I had other things to do.)
2. Cook for 4-5 hours. If you like, you can stir the contents of the skillet every 45 minutes or so. Personally, I didn’t, and my beef fat turned out fine.
3. Strain your fat through cheesecloth to catch the scraps and particles as you pour it into a jar or glass container.
4. Place in the refrigerator, it will keep for months.
ROASTED BEEF MARROW
4 pounds beef marrow bones, cut lengthwise (I used ones roughly 3” long)
1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place the bones, marrow up, on the lined baking sheet. Place in the oven, and roast for 15-20 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, and serve warm, with bread.