How To: Infuse Bone Marrow in Armagnac
or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bone
There are limits to the extremes that even cocktail and food porn should sink to. And any decent person should respect those limits. Frankly, I don’t know what those limits are and I don’t really care. But I’m sure that a bone marrow infusion is pretty close. Anyone who’s been following American gastronomy within the last few years or read anything by Anthony Bourdain knows there are few things that scream “food porn” as much as roasted bone marrow. In the cocktail world, the analog for roasted marrow porn would have to be none other than fat washing.
sidebar: fat washing is a process that infuses fat-based flavors (e.g. bacon, butter) into a high proof alcohol solution without adding any fat molecules or affecting the texture of the solution. This is done through the exploitation of the chemical property “lipophilicity.” We’ll discuss fat washing more in the future.
Due to the high fat content of bone marrow, about 95.8% (to put this in perspective, butter is about 92.9% fat), it makes an excellent medium for fat washing. The only question, what to fat wash it with?
To answer that, I turned to historian-extraordinaire, David Wondrich, who recently wrote an article for Esquire called “Why Aren’t We Drinking This?” all about armagnacs in 2013 . In the article, Wondrich does an excellent job of explaining what exactly distinguishes an armagnac from the other type of brandy made from grapes and produced in France, cognac. Armagnac is distilled once rather than twice as is the case with cognacs. Both spirits are distilled from a wine made from similar grape varietals: Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche; but armagnac grape are grown in a different kind of soil than those destined for cognac (that’s called terroir, kids!). Most importantly, armagnac is distilled in a column still rather than an alembic-style pot still, like cognac. This, along with the single distillation, results in a rougher spirit. Cognac is refined, pleasant, and best suited for the mild palates of the gentry; armagnac is a little more complex and a lot more rewarding in flavor. I like how David Wondrich puts it:
“that extra grip, for want of a better word, comes in handy when you’re eating like they do in the French countryside: cheese and eggs, duck, pork, duck fat, pork fat, and foie gras smeared on anything it can be smeared on. After a meal like that, an old cognac would be just a bit too unctuous, whereas an old Armagnac cuts through the grease.” source: Esquire
If armagnac can cut through the grease of a traditional francophone diet, I’m sure it will provide substantial body to a fat washing with bone marrow.
So we have settled on a spirit, yes? For this operation we chose a relatively inexpensive but still very high quality armagnac, Marie Duffau Napoléon (Napoléon is an age statement, functionally it’s somewhere between VSOP and XO. In other words, it’s old!). And we have our fat washing medium: bone marrow. First, a note on sourcing your marrow. It is relatively simple to go to your local mega mart and find soup bones or dog bones in the butchery section, both of which are cheap, easy sources of marrow. But we’re making a sophisticated product here, let’s be a little more thorough than that. First step, go to the farmer’s market and make friends with someone who raises cows. Mention that you’re looking to source some marrow and they will be more than happy to help out. The best part? It’s probably going to be super cheap, or at least on par with mega mart prices. We sourced our marrow from the guys over at New England Grass fed. It’s locally-raised and grass fed i.e. the best marrow you will ever eat! So now to infuse…
Step 1. Roast bones
Most recipes call for bone marrow to be roasted for 15 minutes or so at 425-450 degrees. This is great if you plan to eat it (if you’ve never tried roasted bone marrow, I highly recommend it). But it leaves the bone marrow with a little too much texture for infusing. For fat washing, we don’t want the bone marrow to be al dente, we want to render out as much liquid fat as possible.
To render the bone marrow, preheat your oven to 350° and prep the bones. It’s hard to determine how much marrow you will ultimately extract from your bones; as a biological product, the marrow content of each bone will vary, but two medium-sized bones (refer to above picture for a better idea of portion size) should suffice. Place bones upright on a foil-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt (optional), place baking sheet in oven and roast for 20-25 minutes.
After 20 minutes or so, the marrow bones should have noticeably browned which will contribute significantly to the final flavor. Remove baking sheet from the oven and tent tin foil over the marrow bones. Return baking sheet to the oven and roast for another 45 minutes. This may seem excessive, but remember that you want as much liquid fat as possible, not solid, edible marrow.
Step 2. Extract marrow
After the bones have finished roasting, the marrow is ready to extract. It is important to work quickly at this point as the liquid fat will solidify at room temperature. Remove baking sheet from the oven and discard tin foil. The bones will be sitting in an unattractive-looking pool of liquid fat and maybe some blood (don’t get squeamish on me now!). This is pure flavor, save as much as you can. The bones will still inevitably be filled with some solid marrow, so you’ll have to extract it which is a lot easier said than done.
The best way I have seen to extract bone marrow is from Mark Sisson’s seminal blog on the primal lifestyle (which warrants eating a lot of bone marrow), Mark’s Daily Apple. His advice: use chop sticks. They do a great job of poking and prodding all the tiny nooks and crannies inside of the bones. And trust me, there are a lot of them and they are really hard to find.
My last tip for extracting the marrow, when you think you’re done, you’re not. There is always more marrow. I spent 45 minutes in total extracting marrow from just TWO BONES. You’ll think you’re done. You’ll think there’s no possible way any more marrow could hide inside that little cavity. Then you’ll poke around again out of curiosity and a flood of marrow will cascade out.
Once you’ve finished extracting marrow and made a sufficient mess, set marrow aside for infusing and clean up. For me, two bones produced about 8 oz by volume of liquid and solid marrow.
Step 3. Infuse and strain
Combine marrow and armagnac (we used about 16 oz. or ~470 ml armagnac) in a quart size wide mouth mason jar. A wide mouth jar is necessary; we’ll explain why later. Shake jar and let it rest at room temperature for anywhere from 12 to 72 hours. You can infuse longer than that if you want, but fat washing is a very efficient infusing method, so there are diminishing returns in respect to an increase in infusion time. In other words, you won’t notice much of a change in flavor after a 3-5 day infusion.
I like the to give the jar a good shake every 6-12 hours to agitate the solution. I’ve been told that this isn’t necessary, but you’ll notice a thick layer of solid fat will quickly form along the surface, even at room temperature. A shake will break up that fat into tiny pieces which will evenly disperse throughout the solution. The increased surface area will increase the amount of contact between the fat and the alcohol molecules and will result in a more efficient infusion. I could be wrong, but shoot, we’re drinking, this doesn’t have to be too exact.
Once the marrow has infused for a satisfactory period of time, place the slushy mixture into the freezer for 6-12 hours. The colder the freezer, the better. You want the fat to solidify as much as possible. You’ll know the solution is ready to be strained when all the fat has solidified and collected at the surface. Open jar, crack the top layer of fat with a spoon, remove as much solid fat as possible. DO NOT THROW THE FAT AWAY, set aside and save for later! After removing the large chunks of fat there will be little specks left floating in the spirit (remember all that shaking?), that stuff needs to be removed.
Get a second wide mouth quart size mason jar and affix a coffee filter to the mouth opening with a rubber band. Gently pour the fat and spirit solution into the coffee filter in the second jar. I like to keep the jars in the freezer while I’m doing this. It keeps the temperatures down and the fats solid. The more solid the fats, the more fat that will be removed and the better the texture of the final product. This will be a slow process, so take your time. I like to strain the solution twice through a coffee filter. Afterwards you’re left with nothing but pure, infused spirit, with no remaining fat and no change in texture (and it’ll hopefully taste pretty good too!).
So what do you do with bone marrow-infused armagnac? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. It is really REALLY good by itself. It’s noticeably smoother than other armagnacs and it has an incredibly sweet flavor. We’re saving our bottle for close friends and the apocalypse. But we put the Drink About It staff to work anyways and thankfully they came up with something. So if you absolutely need to mix it, this is a good place to start.
#DrinkAboutIt: Bone and Sand
the horror… the horror…
1 ½ oz. (45 ml) Bone marrow-infused armagnac
¾ oz. (22 ml) Dolin Rouge (or another good French vermouth)
¾ oz. (22 ml) Kirschwasser
¾ oz. (22 ml) Blood orange juice
Tools: shaker, fine strainer, juicer
Juice blood orange and set aside
Fill shaker with ice and combine all ingredients
Shake and strain into coupe glass
Well doesn’t this seem perfunctory? Adapting a Blood and Sand for a bone marrow-infused armagnac and obnoxiously calling it a BONE and Sand. Well… yeah. But it tastes really good and a decent bit of theory went into this. We increased the quantity of the base from 1 to 1 and ½ ounces to more prominently feature the marrow-infusion and make this a spirit forward drink. We specified a french vermouth (Dolin Rouge) rather than any sweet vermouth because they have more fruit flavors that pair well with the armagnac. Though the sweetness of the French vermouth and armagnac means we had to reduce the total sugar content by decreasing the amount of blood orange juice from 1 to ¾ oz and using Kirschwasser instead of Cherry Heering, which is much less sweet.
We said bone marrow-infused armagnac was good, we never said it was easy to mix with. In the spirit (booze pun!) of being thorough, we even reached out to the staff behind the bar at NOLA’s Cure for help. They suggested we mix it with an apple cider vinegar shrub and Cynar. And I can tell you that would taste really, really good.
After much soul searching and interviewing as many bar professionals as I could, the consensus was that due to the delicate nature of the spirit, it works well in spirit-forward drinks such as an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac, i.e. don’t muddy up the flavor with a ton of other ingredients. A few weeks ago we wrote a post about armagnac-based Sazeracs that used Green Chartreuse instead of absinthe. Consider that as a place to start, but swap out the green for Yellow Chartreuse. It’s not as strongly flavored and will feature the marrow more.
When you make bone marrow-infused armagnac you’ll get armagnac-infused bone marrow butter as a by product. Remember the solid fat that you removed from the frozen solution that I told you not to throw away? That’s marrow butter. And it has a lovely armagnac flavor to boot!
Serve it on toast, melt it over steak, or infuse it into another spirit. But that might be getting too carried away…
What would you do with bone marrow-infused armagnac (or armagnac-flavored marrow butter, for that matter)? Tell us in the comments section below!