How do you do that? How to find, cook and eat bone marrow

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

This is the first installment of our new Southern Kitchen series, "How do you do that?" In this series, I'll attempt to answer reader questions about cooking, sourcing or anything about food, really. This first question was submitted via text from a friend over the holidays, but you may reach me with your questions at mlunsford@southernkitchen.com.Mackensy Lunsford

Marrow bones with toasted baguette and simple parsley salad.

I made bone marrow on New Year's Eve because it felt festive and because I love it. 

If you've never had bone marrow before, you might want to take the leap. It's luscious and creamy when roasted, and tastes nutty, beefy and buttery. It is, in short, delicious when scooped from the bone with toasted crusty bread. 

I posted a photo of my dinner on social media, and a friend noted that they also loved bone marrow, but didn't know where to find it or how to prepare it. 

Brian, I'm glad you asked.  

What is bone marrow?

First, let's start with the basics. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside bones, and beef bones are commonly what you see on restaurant menus. While marrow is firm before it cooks, it quickly yields to a spreadable, but not gelatinous, texture in the oven. 

While marrow is high in calories and fat, it also contains plenty of collagen, protein, linoleic acid, vitamin B-12 and more. I can't comment on supposed health benefits — some believe it's good for skin tone and joint inflammation — but I do find it delicious. 

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Where can I find bone marrow? 

Any high-quality butcher, particularly a whole-animal butcher, should carry bone marrow. I found mine in a Whole Foods supermarket. You'll want to look for high-quality beef bones from grass-fed cattle. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Ask your butcher to cut the bones lengthwise if they aren't already. Count on buying at least two bone halves per person, depending on how much else you're planning to eat.

Make sure to also grab a crusty baguette for serving. Also consider your garnishes, which could include sliced red onion and capers or parsley salad. More about that later.

How do I prepare marrow bones?

It's surprisingly simple to prepare marrow bones. If your bones come frozen, be sure to thaw at least overnight in the refrigerator. You'll also want to inspect the bones for fragments and other impurities, though spots of blood aren't unusual.

While many recipes call for simply placing the bones on a foil-lined baking sheet, I find a baking rack, set within a baking sheet, works best for stability. Place the bones cut side up and season them simply with a dusting of kosher or sea salt and fresh-ground pepper. Bake them at 450 for about 15-20 minutes or until the marrow is soft. You'll want to watch your bones closely. It's important to stop roasting before the marrow liquifies and drizzles out, though some dripping is inevitable and not entirely unwanted.

I usually slice my baguette thinly and, once my bones are done roasting, remove the bone-laden baking rack from the sheet pan and place it in a clean baking sheet. Then, I quickly arrange my baguette slices in the marrow drippings and return the hot sheet pan to the oven to toast the bread in the marrow, turning once.

How do I serve it? 

Arrange your marrow bones in a shallow platter, taking care not to tip them over. Serve the toast alongside. You could stop here, but I like a fresh parsley salad because it offers a nice contrast to the fatty marrow.

To do that, I toss finely chopped green onion and parsley with salt. That's it. Others add in capers, olive oil and lemon juice. You do you, but remember the star of the show is the marrow. Serve your salad in a small dish on the side and let people construct their own toasts, or sprinkle the salad over the bones. Used spoons or knives to scoop out the luscious marrow. Get the last remaining drops out with your sliced bread.

Is this a main dish?

Nope. This is an appetizer or small plate. You'll want more to eat than this, but it's a lovely start to a meal. Enjoy!

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com