Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Roast prime rib

Easter Sunday is almost here. The family will be gathering. You need to think about making something exceptional as an antidote to all the sugary treats the Easter Bunny is about to bring.

I anticipate few meals as much as when the star of the occasion is a standing rib roast. I know that many people figure that a nice leg of lamb or a bone in ham is the tradition for Easter so my suggestion will strike you as doubly counterintuitive, but bear with me. There's plenty of time to shift gears.

When it comes to home cooking, we take our cues from our mothers. I am no exception.

My mother made heavenly roasts of beef. Her recipe became my recipe and it's super-simple.
  • Make a paste of equal quantities of butter and dry mustard, about 2-3 tablespoons of each.
  • Spread the dry mustard paste on the top side of the roast, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
  • Season the roast, do the math for 20-25 minutes per pound, and put the roast in the oven at 350° (Fahrenheit folks... the kitchen is one place where metric has not quite taken hold here).
I just love the resulting flavour, not to mention the delicious aroma that fills the kitchen as the roast roasts. When I was a kid I would lobby hard for the opening cut, and if I was really lucky, I'd get a bone too!

Now you're wondering where the counterintuitive aspect of roasting this prime rib comes into play. I won't drag out the suspense.

Many cookbooks suggest simply roasting at 325° or 350°. A variation in some recipes in more serious cookbooks calls for pre-heating the oven to 400°, 425°, 450°, or even 550°, putting the roast in the oven and immediately reducing the temperature to 375°, 350° or 325°. That about covers most recipes I have come across.

Now here's a new-to-me interesting twist that I just had to try.

It's a little odd that I have plenty of experience with braising which is, I think, the dominant form of slow cooking (I love, love, love to braise) but I had never tried slow roasting. It's even more odd because when I see a menu item labeled 'slow roasted' it makes my mouth water. I suppose it's inevitable that I would one day take the plunge.

After indulging in some research I went way out on a limb and cooked this gorgeous roast in the following way: I pre-heated the oven to a mere 200° and cooked the roast at 25 minutes a pound. When the cooking period was done I tested the roast with a digital meat thermometer: 115° which is very rare.

I removed the roast from the oven, set it on the counter (a very practical benefit of having a granite countertop), and covered it with foil. I let it rest for a full 30 minutes, at which point we were at a quarter-to-supper. At supper-minus-20 I set the oven to 550°. Once the oven announced it was ready, I removed the foil and put the roast back in the now super-hot oven for precisely 15 minutes.

And here is the result. A roast that is rare virtually from end to end (except the outside cuts), and nicely caramelized and crusted on the outside.

I have to admit I was very, very pleasantly surprised with the result.

The next time, I'll reduce the temperature to the lowest our oven can go, which is 170° and I'll increase the cooking time to 35 minutes a pound and see what the thermometer reads. I think a reading of 120° to 125° will be just about perfect for us.

Interestingly, I was whiling away some time in front of the magazine rack at the pharmacy recently and saw a recipe along these lines but far more extreme. It requires a professional oven set to 120° and 18 hours of cooking time. The first step in that recipe is to treat the roast to a propane torch to sear it and caramelize it. That extreme searing trick does the job and since the heat does not penetrate much, it leaves the meat raw just below the surface.

The advantages of low the temperature approach to roasting a prime rib are:
  • the gentle roasting is kinder to the meat and breaks down more of the collagen in the beef with the result that the roast is more tender with this cooking method than when the same cut of beef is cooked at higher more traditional roasting temperatures.
  • the resting period is very flexible. A little more, or a little less, say 10 minutes either way, is not going to make a difference. That means that if you are entertaining, it's possible to time the meal which much more precision because, once the initial cooking is done and the roast is resting, you have total control over the last 15 minutes before service. If it turns out that everyone is in rapt attention as the guest of honor recounts a recent heli-skiing adventure where he and his buddies were skirting an avalanche in the Bugaboos while they raced down the mountain in waist-deep powder, no problem. Pour another round of Cabernet Sauvignon and stick with your guests to take it all in without worrying that your roast is turning to shoe leather in the oven. That advantage becomes even greater if you are able to roast at 120°.
  • the roast retains virtually all its juices due to the extended resting period and will be perfectly cooked throughout, end to end.
The disadvantages are:
  • you will have very little in the way of pan drippings for gravy. If gravy is a must, roast the traditional way, or make some jus with another cut of beef like some shanks for instance and some aromatics (onion, celery, carrots, parsnips) and wine.
  • you will not have a range of doneness to satisfy those who prefer their beef more or less 'done' than you do. It's best to reserve this method for times when you are confident that almost all the guests will be happy with the same degree of roasting. Alternatively, return a few slices to the oven for people who prefer medium-well, or well done.
Any way you slice it (pun groan), this is a very interesting roasting technique and, based on my roasting experience to date, totally counterintuitive.

Happy Easter!


RichardM said...

I use a very similar recipe. I separate the bones from the roast and put fresh rosemary, salt and pepper in the space. I then make slits in the roast and insert garlic cloves. Then tie the roast back together with cotton string. I then mix rock salt with beaten egg whites to make a salt cap. Heavily season the fat with pepper then cover with rock salt. Bake at 200°F until the internal temp reaches about 127°F. Let rest for 30 minutes. Remove the salt cap. Then raise the oven to over 500°F and roast until the fat is brown...

Peter Sanderson said...

Kind of like what I do on my Weber Bullet smoker then at the end I grill it to caramelize the outside. The only difference is the nice pink smoke ring and the flavor from the wood and by mopping the roast periodically with my special mop sauce.

Canajun said...

We don't do many beef roasts, but this looks good enough to give it a try. Thanks for the share.

David Masse said...

Oh dear that beats my recipe by a country mile.

Out of curiosity, how many minutes a pound to you estimate until the roast reaches 127°?

David Masse said...

E-mail sent :)

It sounds like once we're settled we could start a little riding and cooking clique.

David Masse said...

Peter can you control the temperature in your smoker? If so, how low can you go?

I might want to get one and try making some smoked meat. I recently picked up a recipe. I'll have a post on that coming soon.

David Masse said...

My pleasure David.

Sounds like you should wrangle an invitation from Peter the next time he fires up his smoker.

RichardM said...

I never figured it out. A 4 bone roast is about 3 1/2 to 4 hours and is enough for about 7 adults unless there are some that like more well done (the end cuts) then around 8 - 9 people. Typo 127° should've been 117°F.

redlegsrides said...

Dang, now I'm hungry...

Steve Williams said...

Same here -- it looks delicious. And I'm stuck with a red meat restriction.

Great post David.

Martha said...

Fear not Mr. Chang, Wifey brought home a roast yesterday, and so your turn is coming! Thank you David for your perfectly timed very helpful blog report on how to roast the roast.

David Masse said...

Martha! Welcome!

I have gone on record saying you are a saint, for putting up with a Ural-addicted husband, now with multiple rig!!

Let us know how that roast fares.

Dom is one lucky, lucky guy!

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