"Pssst! Hey buddy, you looking for any of that there...fish goo? I know a guy."
An unusual product, popping up in hushed conversation among chefs and their fishmongers, may soon be swimming to a restaurant near you. It's fish marrow. Yes - bone marrow from fish.
Once the domain of dogs' dinners and the working class's cucina povera, in recent years, bone marrow oozed into chef territory. Platters of sawed-open bones with rich marrow soon popped up on high-end menus across the country. Anthony Bourdain coined it "butter from god," and it gained a devout following accordingly.
Those who grew up with the Italian braised veal dish osso buco will remember spooning out (and fighting over) the gelatinous marrow to savor along with the sauce, browned shanks and gremolata. Those who didn't grow up with it quickly adopted the same zeal.
The broth from hangover favorite, Vietnamese phở, is traditionally enriched by marrow bones that have been simmered for hours upon hours. And, the classic French technique calls for the marrow bones to be roasted and served with toast and rock salt to smear and sprinkle accordingly.
Most of the bone marrow served in restaurants is from cows or veal calves. For its marine counterpart, it takes a big fish with proportionally large bones; think swordfish, tuna and sturgeon.
Keith Fuller, the chef and owner of ROOT 174 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been experimenting with swordfish marrow (pictured above).
"It has the texture of a silicone implant," Fuller said. "Then, when you put it in your mouth and it bursts, it tastes like a hint of the sea -- but it's not super salty."
Fuller has featured it on his menu three times. Each time, it sold out, but not before a few diners asked, "What is this?" and "Is it supposed to be raw?" He served it like an oyster: raw and with a mignonette, a sauce of vinegar, minced shallots and cracked pepper.
Harold Dieterle, who many may recognize as the first winner in Bravo's "Top Chef" program, just opened his third restaurant in New York City -- appropriately called The Marrow. He's been playing around with tuna marrow and hopes to put it on the menu soon.
"I kind of compare it to whipped pork fat. It's very mild, but it definitely has a fish flavor," Dieterle explained.
As often happens, what's old is new again. Vesiga - or the dried spinal marrow of sturgeon - was a favorite of the Russian czar set. Slices of it were also served atop a consommé preparation on the ill-fated Titanic.
If fish marrow was good enough for the unsinkable Molly Brown, it's worth diving into.