Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Day 142 - Eating Bone Marrow

I have never eaten bone marrow. With another Tasty Tuesday in my “I have never...” journey upon me, I figured today would be a good opportunity to try another unique food that I would otherwise have foregone completely. Like Durian fruit, scorpions, and beef tongue before it, the idea of eating bone marrow has never appealed to me. While everyone I know that has tried the food states it is delicious, their independent descriptions of eating the food always came with caveats about appearance, texture, and consistency. As someone that considers these features a critical part of finding a food appealing, the descriptions of a rubbery, gritty paste nestled in a bone was enough for me to skip the bone marrow experience during the first 30 years of my life. I figured I would leave the bone marrow to those more adventurous than I, and carry on no worse for wear in my culinary experiences.

That brings us to today, and my ultimate decision to commit to eating bone marrow for the first time. Like many experiences in my “I have never...” journey, the idea of eating bone marrow was something I never intended to do, but in a year of new things I’m bound to face some of the experiences I would avoid in any other context. With that, eating bone marrow became something I knew I would inevitably experience. I just needed to take some time to come to terms with the idea and pinpoint a time to try bone marrow. As a result, I decided I would wait to gain the experience until somewhere around the middle of my “I have never...” year, which happens to be right around now.

Here we go...
Some five months into my year of new experiences, I decided tonight would be the night I would have my first encounter with bone marrow. Although I still didn’t feel mentally prepared for the experience, Rachael and I decided we would go to a local Madison restaurant, Cooper’s Tavern, which was known to serve a quality bone marrow appetizer.  In turn, we made our way downtown after the workday and grabbed some outdoor seats to enjoy the beautiful early autumn weather. Almost immediately upon arriving at the restaurant my eyes began quickly reviewing the menu for the bone marrow selection. After a few seconds of searching, I located the entry tucked between entries in the otherwise standard appetizers section. With the words “roasted bone marrow” staring me in the face, the idea of eating the obscure food suddenly became real. For better or worse, I was about to eat the inside of a beef bone...

When our server arrived at our table, I decided to immediately put in the order for the bone marrow. Acknowledging it meant I couldn’t back out, I looked at Rachael with wary eyes as our server walked away with our appetizer and drink order. “Well, there’s no turning back now,” I said before taking a sip of my water. In response, Rachael shook her head and reassured me it would be fine. I paused for a brief moment before replying, “Sure, it will be fine... Gross, but fine.” Rachael smile and rolled her eyes at my reply before the two of us returned to our menus and chatted about the potential main courses. As we talked, I did my best to play off my continuing hesitation at the thought of eating bone marrow, but I knew it was likely it was still written all over my face. Regardless, it was too late to back out of my commitment, and I knew it was only a matter of time before our server returned with a plate of cut bones and marrow.

Sometime later, Rachael and I sat at our table continuing to wait for some sign of our server’s return. I did my best to focus on our conversation as we waited, but I felt myself growing anxious about the forthcoming experience with each passing minute. With my mind transitioning from resistance to a desire to complete my first experience with bone marrow as quickly as possible, I just wanted some sign as to when it would occur. Eventually, our server returned and advised us the bone marrow would take some time to arrive as a result of how long it takes for the food to cook through. Understanding, I folded my hands on the table and did my best to shift my mind back into my conversation with Rachael. That simple act proved challenging as I continued trying to force myself to terms with the idea of eating bone marrow. It was still overwhelmingly unappealing, but more than 20 minutes after placing the order I was ready to take on the experience; if only to get it over with.

After another moderate wait, our server returned to our table with a long, rectangular white plate held at shoulder level. The positioning obscured the view of the plate’s contents until she quickly set it in the center of our table and walked away. The sight of a narrow brown line of marrow running down two pieces of thick with bone split lengthwise initially sent me leaning back in my chair. To the right of the bone, three triangular pieces of bread sat next to some greens and a small metal spoon. I hesitated briefly before leaning forward and breaking the silence. “So, how does this work?” I asked looking up at Rachael with a hint of disgust on my face. “I’m not really sure,” she replied as she examined the contents of the plate. “I think you just scoop it out with the spoon and put it on the bread,” Rachael said gesturing toward the spoon resting at the edge of the display. Following her assumption, I grabbed the spoon and took one last look at the bone. “Well, alright. Here we go,” I said as I tipped the spoon downward and angled toward the marrow.


With a swift downward motion I plunged the spoon into the marrow and began wiggling it to separate the food from the bone. The marrow immediately made its rubbery texture known as I continued in my effort. Although it wasn’t failing to come off, brown tendrils of the marrow clung to pieces of the bone as I stretched the substance toward the edge of the plate. The experience was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be, but I can’t say the texture of the marrow surprised me. After a little more effort I pulled a spoonful of the marrow from the bone and looked it over. Its appearance reminded me of gristle after spending hours marinating in a pot roast. Although repelled by the sight, I continued forward with Rachael’s direction, placing the marrow on a piece of bread. Under the weight of the spoon the marrow spread like jam over the crisp brown surface of the bread, which only added to the unpleasant feeling now gripping me. After placing a few leaves of greens on the marrow laden bread I lifted toward my face and gave it one last look. Mere moments from taking my first bite of bone marrow I only felt one thing, incredibly uneasy.

The stare down...
Realizing my continued hesitance was only serving to make things worse, I took a deep breath and bit into marrow coated bread. The taste was a mix of salty, sweet, and fatty flavors blanketed over a backdrop of pumpernickel bread. As I chewed on the marrow for a bit, the gritty, rubbery texture I had heard about in the past came out in full force; however, the resistance of the marrow was minimal at best. After a few chews it turned into a smooth, buttery texture highlighted by bits of salt that had been worked into the marrow. Overall, the marrow wasn’t fantastic, but the experience wasn’t as bad as I had feared. While it became immediately apparent bone marrow wasn’t going to one of my foods of choice going forward, I was glad I tried it and I was more than capable of working through the rest of plate before us.

Taking it on!
Over the next 15 minutes, Rachael and I nibbled away at the bone marrow spread, taking time to talk about our opinions on the food as we sampled more from the plate. I was surprised to find there was actually very little marrow in the bones as we separated more pieces from the bone and spread them on the remaining pieces of pumpernickel. By the time we had removed the last of the marrow we had more than enough bread and greens left on the plate, which left us some palate cleaners before our meals arrived. With the appetizer all but gone, I looked at the hollowed out bones in front of us. “Well, we did it... We ate bone marrow, “I said carrying a degree of disbelief in my voice. “Yeah,” Rachael said in reply, “and it wasn’t too bad.” I nodded my head in a sort of half agreement at her remarks. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding. That stated, I know the taste of bone marrow is something I will never forget.


With night falling quickly, Rachael and I worked through our meals and made the short trek home. While our main courses were decent, the standout from tonight’s meal at Cooper’s Tavern was the bone marrow. Now, that isn’t necessarily because it was more delicious than anything else we ate tonight. Instead, the unique nature of a food that many people may consider off limits is something that will leave an imprint in my mind. Before today’s experience I never would have given bone marrow a try, but now that I have I’m glad I gained the experience. Considering the degree of hesitation and uncertainty I had about the event, following through on today’s experience gave me another opportunity to face a kind of fear head on and come out better for it. Sure, eating bone marrow is something relatively simple, but it is yet another reason to believe this journey is helping me learn to live without fear. With so much life to live out there, that’s a lesson I’m happy I’m learning from this crazy little adventure.

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