Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tired of Turkey? Try a Rib Roast - It's Easy!

How good does that look?

If you're like many people, you swear you'd rather do away with holiday meals altogether if you have to choke down another bite of turkey. At the same time, you're intimidated by the idea of a rib roast, fearful that your big, expensive hunk of beef will turn into a big, expensive and embarrassing lump of FAIL. Fear not, loyal reader. I've got you covered, and your roast will be perfect every time.

Your first requirement will be to buy a high-quality roast, USDA Choice or Prime. One of these bad boys is almost always called "Prime Rib" regardless of grade, so don't be fooled by the label. If you don't know the grade of what you're looking at, and there will be a lot of choices this time of year, ask. Prime is going to be hard to find and expensive, so you'll probably end up with Choice. But also be aware that there are variances in the quality level of Choice, so choose one with lots of "marbling" - little flecks of fat in the meat.

If you're a Costco member, they generally have lots of roasts and the quality for the money can't be surpassed. Some Costco stores are carrying Prime steaks, so it's possible they'll have Prime rib roasts this year. Take a look. And if you want the finest possible experience, order a roast from Bryan's Fine Foods in Corte Madera, CA. Bryan's quality is unsurpassed, but quality comes at a price and you'll have to pay for shipping, so be forewarned.

You want a roast from either the loin end (commonly referred to as the "small" end) or from the center of the roast. The "eye" of the roast is largest here, whereas the "lifter" or "cap" - the part on the outside of the roast that's separated by a seam of fat - is smaller. In this photo, the cap is on the right, running in a crescent from about 12:00 to 4:00. Look at the marbling, it's about perfect.

Some people like the "large" or shoulder end where the eye is smaller and there's more cap, and the flavor of the cap is more intense, but it's nowhere near as nice to look at. Figure about 2 to 2.5 servings per bone, so if you have 10 people you'll need a 4 or 5 bone roast, depending upon whether you have big or small eaters and whether you want leftovers for sandwiches. In any event, don't try this with a roast that has fewer than 2 bones. Ask your butcher, unless you're really comfortable with your beef anatomy, to cut the bones off and tie them back on. That way, when you're ready to carve, you just lift the meat off the bones, slice and serve. The roast will cook exactly the same as if you had left the bones on, so don't concern yourself with that.

Next, and everything from here on has been shamelessly borrowed from Alton Brown on the Food Network, unless you've been lucky enough to find dry-aged beef (Bryan's will be dry-aged) is to age it yourself for a few days. Put it on a sheet pan, rib bones down, cover it loosely with paper towels and plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for up to 4 days. Your fridge needs to be cold - 38 degrees or under - and you need to put the roast on the lowest shelf. Change the towels every day or two. If you end up with any really leathery portions, just trim them off before you cook. Alternately, you can do what Alton does, and invert a really large plastic tub, like Rubbermaid or Tupperware, poke holes in it for air circulation and age your roast in that.

When the day comes to cook your roast, take it out of the refrigerator at least two hours before you plan to begin cooking so it will come up to room temperature, or at least get warmer than it was when it was in the fridge. I've discovered that after two hours the center will be somewhere around 50 degrees, but that's better than 36. Leaving it out longer won't hurt it.

Now comes the part where we're going to violate every "rule" you've ever learned about roasting meat. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. That's right, 250. Not 350 and certainly not 425. Season your roast all over with salt and pepper and put the probe on your Polder thermometer right in the middle of the eye. Turn the oven down to 200 degrees (really, 200!) and put the roast in the oven, bones down, in a roasting pan or the sheet pan you've aged it in. The bones will form their very own rack.

Set your Polder alarm to 120 degrees and go away. The roast, whether it has 2 bones or 5, will cook in somewhere around 3.5-4.5 hours. The diameter is the same no matter the length of the roast, so the cooking time is the same. When your alarm goes off, remove the roast from the oven and tent it with heavy duty aluminum foil. Just cut a slit in the foil so you can slip it around the probe from your thermometer, which you do NOT want to remove. You'll notice the thing doesn't look very brown and appetizing, but not to worry. We'll take care of that shortly.

The temperature will continue to rise for at least half an hour, and that's fine. It will probably top out between 125 and 130, which is perfect. If you see the temperature falling because you're not ready to serve yet, just stick the roast back in the oven on your oven's lowest setting with the door ajar. You can hold it for quite some time this way if you have to. Just keep an eye on the temp, and if it starts rising again, take the roast out as before.

About 20 minutes before you're going to serve, crank the oven up to 500 degrees, open a window and turn the fan on high. When the oven is fully heated, put the roast in for 10 minutes or so, or until it's a nice, appetizing brown color like the picture at the top. Remove the strings, lift the meat off the bone and slice into nice, thick slices.

You've probably been wondering why we're roasting at such a low temperature and searing the roast after cooking rather than the other way around as cookbooks normally tell you do to. There are several reasons, all of which have to do with a better end product. Alton Brown even goes to the extreme of roasting inside an inverted terra cotta flower pot, which reduces temperature fluctuations as the oven cycles on and off. I don't think this is necessary, but if you want to do it, by all means don't worry about what I think. You'll just have to preheat longer before putting the roast in to make sure the terra cotta is up to temperature.

First, doing it this way results in a roast that's pretty much the same degree of doneness all the way through, rather than almost well done on the outside and pink in the middle. You can see this in the photo to the left, though the plate looks a bit bare because my daughter made a salad and we served it on a separate plate. This was last Christmas, by the way, and the meat came from Wegmans. If you have one near you you're blessed at holiday time. Their selection of roasts is the best I've ever seen.

Second, there's much less carry-over cooking, so determining when to take it out of the oven is a more exact science. A roast cooked at 350 and removed from the oven at 120 degrees internal temperature can get to almost 140 by the time it's done carrying over. Lastly, and this can be a drawback if you're planning on making a pan sauce, the roast will exude fewer juices as it cooks, making the meat more moist.

So there you have it. You can't miss with this method. Pick your sides, drag out a nice bottle of cabernet or Bordeaux and have at it.

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