I start my braises in the privacy of dark winter mornings. First I brown a piece of bone-in meat – lately it’s been beef – with hot fat in a heavy enamel pot. The braise of the day is shanks with turnips, carrots, plenty of garlic, onions, some parsley, a bay leaf and homemade stock. All day the braise fills my small home with smells that are elemental, earthy, and lush.
What matters to me most is tender meat, served piping hot. Fat is what I want. That sticky, lip-smacking tasty animal fat—the sort that makes a braise taste so good, and congeals solid on top once it’s cooled down.
No matter how satisfying and exotic I try to make my braises - like lamb shoulder with cardamom, curry and dried figs, or chicken with yellow-eyed beans, peppercorns and preserved lemons—and how sensual the house smells but by morning the heat of the wood stove has burned off all trace. Those delicious cooking smells are vanquished so when I wake up in that pre-dawn vastness that I adore, dinner is just a dream and I stand cold again in my kitchen—dry, forgetting and hungry like a ghost.
Looking down into my morning-cold red-enameled pot, I see those left over sticks of whittled turnip, the dice of an odd carrot and a few halved potatoes jutting up like weathered volcanic islands in a calm sea of beef tallow that settled over the gelatinous broth. The meat I now realize, has simply become beside the point, a means to an end because what I crave most are the short, squat marrowbones for breakfast that I’ll eat with buttered rye toast to dip. So carefully, I pluck out all those bones and set them to heat in a small iron skillet with some of that salty, jellied broth.
Each bone holds in its center a pip of soft marrow. That ugly coveted stuff is like an acrobat suspended in the webbed hollow of cooked bone.
Some how, some tiny, tender bits of meat still cling on to that shank - held fast by sinew and ribbons of fat of some other connective sort, smooth and elastic. Not just my mouth waters.
Doctor’s warnings about how my aged bones are prone to brittleness and could maybe break easily are at best annoying and at worst, alarmist, I think. So for as long as I can, I’m just going to eat more from luscious bones for collagen, for fat, for flavor.
Back at the breakfast table, I scoop the last of the marrow from the bones and swirl it around what broth is left, congealing in the bowl. There’s a memory of scratching the fuzzy brown ears of one calf and the abundant curiosity of his nose.
I’m no farmer but I do know that young males calves serve no purpose on a dairy farm. “They’re useless and completely pointless,” farmers have told me while handing over a bag of frozen odd cuts wrapped in butcher paper.
Satiated for the time being, I gloss my lips with a greasy fingertip like a kiss—a wonder of breath and muscle, structure and spirit, fat and warmth. Bones are something I can’t ignore.