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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Grilled Beef Bulalo with Grilled Corn
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.