Saturday, March 21, 2009

T-Bone Steak with Melting Marrow Gremolata

One of the simplest pleasures in life is a perfectly cooked steak.

Beef is enjoyable in many forms, but steak is possibly the simplest and best of all -- you throw it over some heat and minutes later, you're sitting down to a satisfying meal. At least, that's the way it should be. Cooking a steak is simple. It doesn't take much to cook beef. But cooking it perfectly is another story.

My idea of a perfect steak is: seared and crusty on the outside, with a warm red center. It sounds so deceptively simple, but it's taken me years to finally figure out how to make something close to what I love (though not perfected yet) with the tools I have at hand. The thing with steak is that it's so easily overcooked. One second it's too rare, and the next second it's brown throughout. If you brown it on high heat, the outside is charred but the inside is too rare. Brown it on lower heat, and it'll take longer to brown, by which time the meat will be far too well done.

My dad doesn't worry about the browning. As long as it's medium rare, he's good with it. And his steaks are definitely fantastic. But he uses a broiler, and I've never been able to figure out my electric broiler, so that's out. Others use outdoor grills with great success. I love the flavor of meat that's been grilled on a barbecue, but I'm just one person and it's a lot of effort to get a grill going just for one steak, and anyway I don't have a great grill (just a small hibachi) or experience with grilling steak. Basically, all I have is my oven and my stove. Is it possible to get perfectly cooked steak with just those? It might be. I'm still in the experimental stages. What I do know is that my first try was a steak that came close to being perfect, maybe as perfect as I can get with home equipment. Time will tell.

Until today, I generally avoided cooking steak at home because it never comes out the way I want. Why did I finally cave? Well, it has to do with bone marrow.

The other day I went to a neighborhood butcher for the first time, with the intent to buy marrow bones. I ended up buying 6 pieces. (One was given raw to my dog, as marrow bones have been proven to be a great recreational bone, keeping dogs busy for hours as they chew happily away -- and it keeps their teeth clean and tartar-free at the same time!) I've been doing a LOT of research and reading about eating bone marrow, which has sadly gone out of practice in modern times, even though it's chock full of goodness. "Bone marrow is a source of protein and high in monounsaturated fats. These fats are known to decrease LDL cholesterol levels resulting in a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease." (Source)

I've ordered Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore by Jennifer Mclagan, which won a James Beard award as the best single subject cookbook of 2005. The cover of the book is a plate of delectable-looking roasted marrow bones. I love this quote from the author in an interview she did: "But when you [...] get to chew on the bone it is something primordial. It takes us back to our ancient wild past as humans. It is a pure basic human pleasure and the basis of the truism 'the closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat'."

The most common method of preparation is to roast the marrow right in the bone, then use it as a spread on toasted bread. Anthony Bourdain has said that if he were on death row, his last meal would consist of bone marrow (here is his recipe). For something a little fancier, you could also roast it, remove the marrow and mix it with aromatics and mushrooms, then stuff it back into the bone, and serve it that way. I'm also intrigued by this method of removing the marrow from the bone, brining it, rolling it in flour, then sauteing it in oil. Then you spread it on bread to eat.

But perhaps the method that's intrigued me the most is the recipe for Melting Marrow Gremolata, which comes from Judy Rodgers's The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, one of the favorites in my collection of cookbooks. Her recipe has you mixing together a traditional gremolata of garlic, lemon peel, parsley and other seasonings along with chunks of cold bone marrow. You then cook yourself up a nice juicy steak, and spread the marrow gremolata over the steak. The heat melts the marrow and the aromatics spread and bloom over the surface of the meat (paraphrasing now as I don't have the book in front of me).

Thus while at the butcher's, I also picked up a T-bone steak, one of my favorites. If I was going to make the gremolata, I'd have to have a steak to use it on. And if I was going to cook steak at home, I'd have to try and make it good. I made the gremolata while waiting for the steak to come to room temperature and kept it in the fridge until it was ready to be used.

I preheated my oven to 450°F and started heating my new Le Creuset grilling pan (yes, the same one I used yesterday for my flounder). When the latter was hot, I rubbed a bit of canola oil over both sides of the steak. If I didn't have the gremolata I would have seasoned it with salt and pepper as well, but I did have it, so I did no further seasoning. The steak sizzled when I placed it into the pan. After 3 minutes, the steak was seared with lovely stripes of brown that you see on TV commercials -- I wish I'd taken a picture of it at this point. I'll be trying this with a normal pan as well, to perhaps get an all-over crust (I'll also use a higher temperature to sear). I flipped the steak over, sprinkled the gremolata over the top, and placed the pan into the oven. After two minutes, the steak was done. You should let it sit for a few minutes to keep in the juice.

Overall, the result was very good. The only problems were that it was actually a little more well done in parts than I really like, and that there was a bit of inconsistency in how evenly the steak cooked. Some parts were overdone, while other parts (the bits closer to the bone) were underdone. There will always be some inconsistency, but the range here was a little more than I would have liked.

For my next attempt, I'll use a higher heat when doing the initial searing and lessen the time as well. I'll also try using a lower temperature in the oven, and keep it in a minute longer. Still, I must say that it was very exciting to come this close on a first attempt. It gives me great hope! As for the gremolata, I think it was a bit heavy on the parsley. If I make it again I'll use more garlic and less parsley. Not being familiar with bone marrow, I'm not really sure I could taste it! I'll definitely need to prepare it using one of the other methods.

I served the steak with Ruth's Chris au gratin potatoes (recipe here).

Taking it out of the oven in preparation for the last step: Lots of cheese sprinkled on top!

And the finished product...

Melting Marrow Gremolata paraphrased from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

  • 1 tbsp cold beef marrow (0.5oz)
  • 2 tbsp packed, chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, chopped
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pinches of salt


  1. Mix together everything but the bone marrow.
  2. Chop the beef marrow into small pieces and toss with the aromatics. Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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