The recent consignment from Swaledale Butchers that brought me my epic St John Haggis also included a quartet of marrow bone canoes – perfect receptacles for another all-time Fergus Henderson classic.
Since my epiphany at his St John Smithfield restaurant 20 years ago I‘ve wolfed molten ox marrow topped with herby crumbs and garlic (pictured above) everywhere from various Hawksmoors to the now vanished Spotted Pig in New York’s West Village, which used to host an annual Fergus-Stock event with its culinary hero in attendance.
The canoes are cut from the the femur and split lengthways through the bone fully exposing the marrow. Less fiddly access and perfect for roasting. Seven minutes in a medium oven will do. Don’t over-cook. A single canoe can accompany a steak, but scooping the ooze out of it with sourdough toast is perhaps the most satisfying approach, raw onion, capers and parsley on the side. In his inimitable prose Fergus suggests: “Lightly chop your parsley, just enough to discipline it.”
So what did I do with my marrowy haul? Went all Sri Lankan instead. Adapted arguably the most popular dish on the menu at the Hoppers group in London. In my Christmas food and drink book recommendations I rated Cynthia Shanmugalingam’s Rambutan as the only Sri Lankan cookbook you need. I’ve ignored my own advice and also acquired the gorgeously produced Hoppers: The Cookbook (Hardie Grant, £30) by its founder Karan Gokani. There on page 256 I discovered Bone Marrow Varuval. High octane spice. Its contents perfect for tipping into the signature hoppers, the fermented rice flour crepes (often served with an egg) namechecked for the brand.
As so often happens, my attempt doesn’t look as gorgeous as the restaurant version but still tasted wonderful (see the sequence below). Without a specialist hopper pan I didn’t risk that element.
BONE MARROW VARUVAL
For the curry: 6 five inch shin bones, split lengthways, 300g red onions, finely sliced, 10 curry leaves, 1 tbsp minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger, ½ tsp turmeric, 2 tsp red chilli powder, 1½ tbsp double concentrated tomato paste, 2 green chillies, deseeded and cut in half lengthways, 200ml beef stock, 100ml coconut milk, salt to taste.
Spice paste: 100g freshly grated coconut, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 4 green cardamom pods, 2 tbsp coriander seeds, 4 red chillies, deseeded, ½ tsp cumin seeds, 5 tbsp oil.
Garnish: 2 tbsp oil, 10 curry leaves.
Deep fry the sliced onions for a few minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Lay the marrow bones out in a tray and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the cut side. Roast for six minutes.
To make the spice paste heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut to it and fry until golden brown. Set aside in a bowl and wipe down the pan.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the same pan and fry all the remaining ingredients for the spice paste on medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add them to the coconut and blitz everything to a thick paste, adding a little bit of water.
Heat a wide heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil to it and add the curry leaves, fried onions, ginger and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes, adding a splash of beef stock if it looks dry. Add the turmeric and red chilli powder and fry for 30 seconds. Tip in the tomato paste and green chillies and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the spice paste along with the remaining beef stock and coconut milk. Simmer it all until it reduces to a thick sauce. Season to taste. Transfer the roasted bones to the curry sauce and simmer for 5-8 minutes. Once the bone marrow has finished cooking through, garnish with the fried curry leaves.