Holiday parties deserve showcase pieces of meat. For New Year’s Eve you might want to cook what is often considered to be the money shot of cuts–the standing rib roast (aka prime rib). The high price of a quality piece of meat like this often scares people away from cooking one (especially if you’re buying organic or pasture-raised which can run upwards of $20 per lb. so it literally can hearken back to the original definition of “money shot”).
But cooking a rib roast couldn’t be easier (and it’s usually pretty quick too, depending on the size). Here’s my how-to documented when I made one of these for Christmas dinner. The most important thing with a piece of meat like this is not to do too much–let the quality of the cut shine through and be sure to buy top-quality meat.
But first…did you ever notice how much a rib roast is shaped like a breast?
First you want to let your piece of meat sit at room temperature for at least a couple hours, if not more. I know, gasp, let meat sit non-refrigerated…it’s okay. Bacteria only live on the surface of the meat, and you will be annihilating anything soon (also, if you buy quality meat from a reputable small butcher or butcher it yourself as I do, especially with grassfed beef, bacterial contamination is incredibly rare). The reason you want the meat room temperature is so that you can keep a nice rare-to-medium-rare middle, without having too deep of a fully cooked band around the edges of the roast or, alternately, having a raw center.
Just look at this beautiful piece of meat, sitting waiting to be cooked…
This is, if not obvious, a “three-rib” roast. Standing rib roasts are usually sold by number of ribs. This one weighed 4 lbs. (and so would feed four to six people depending on their appetites and how many sides you had), but keep in mind this was from a Dexter steer, and so smaller than the usual. A typical full-size three-rib roast will feed more like 6 to 8 people. Although they sell two-rib roasts, I find them a bit too small to stand properly in the pan and you don’t get a great ratio of cooked outer part to pink inside–too much cooked part, so I’d recommend a three-rib minimum (basically a two-rib roast is just a super-fat rib steak).
(And as an aside, for those of you who like to geek out on the butchery, as I do, a standing rib roast is basically a giant chunk of the rib primal, trimmed up a bit. The rib primal is the center part of a steer’s backbone (ribs 6 through 12), the chuck being at the head end of the rib and the short loin, sirloin, and round following behind it to the tail. The biggest roast you can get is a seven-rib behemoth, which will feed a lot of people. You can get boneless rib roasts, but, in my humble opinion, this is just a giant waste of money and flavor–a standing rib roast is so easy to bone post cooking and you get so many taste benefits from cooking on the bone (plus for people who like to gnaw meat off of bones, as I do, you get that wonderfulness!).
Next, you will want to make a very simple wet rub for the roast. Preheat your oven to 450F while you make the rub. I prefer minced garlic, s & p, olive oil, and either thyme or rosemary. Keep it simple. You can even use quality garlic powder (it does exist) instead of minced garlic (did I just advocate for garlic powder on a super expensive cut of meat??? the horrors!).
So: (I think photos convey these steps just fine…)
Then you want to rub the roast all over with the rub.
Set it in a roasting pan that’s not too big. Depending on how the roast was butchered, you may be able to stand the roast on its rib bones so they form sort of an arch with the meat on top. I feel that this position allows more fat to drain away from the meat and for air to circulate nicely creating even cooking. However, if your roast won’t stand this way, position it so that it “stands” as best it can.
Place the roast in the oven and roast at 450F for 20 minutes to give the outside a good sear (the bacteria-annihilation stage alluded to above). Then turn the oven down to 325F and roast for 10 minutes per lb. for rare, a bit more for medium-rare. After that start checking the internal temp with an instant-read meat thermometer (essential…don’t cook an expensive piece of meat like this without one). Insert the thermometer from the top, so as to not lose any juices through the puncture hole. I like to take mine out at 115 and let it rest for a good half hour for a perfect rare-to-medium-rare. Be sure to let the roast rest–I can’t stress this enough with any piece of meat…the juices need to settle back in or you will have dry meat.
(Note: you can make a jus or pan gravy from a rib roast, but I’ve found that the small ones just never yield enough drippings to make it worthwhile (especially with grassfed roasts, which seem to not drip anything at all except clear fat). A standing rib roast is a very fatty cut of meat, and there is so much fat to separate from the juices, so if you do end up with enough lovely brown stuff on the bottom of your pan, be sure to use a gravy separator to degrease the sauce.)
Then carve it! There are multiple ways to carve a standing rib roast–you can cut large, steak-thickness pieces or cut thinner slices. I prefer the latter. Either way the easiest carving technique is to separate the meat from the bones and then slice through the resulting boneless roast. You can cut between the rib bones and hand them out to those who like to gnaw on bones (provided the chine bone was cut off–in butchering geek-speak this means that part of the backbone was sawed away longitudinally so that you can cut between the ribs without encountering knife-impenetrable bone).
Okay, ready to carve (standing rib roasts are fun to do tableside, as they are much, much simpler to carve than, say, a turkey…). Have two knives ready–a boning knife and a slicing knife–and a carving fork. Position the roast so that you can slide the boning knife down between the bulk of the meat and the rib bones:
You may need to creatively reposition the roast as you go…or just get creative with your body positioning:
This roast had the chine bone intact (I was in a lazy butchering mood–I don’t own a power bone saw), so here’s what to do: at the bottom of the rib bones pull the meat away with your non-carving hand and curve the knife around to separate the meat from the chine and feather bones (although on this particular roast, the slaughterhouse had cut through the backbone in a way that left just tiny slivers of featherbones on the rib primal, so I just sawed them off during butchering):
(If you have a roast with the chine removed, you’d just cut off the ribs and feather bones separately if you are going for the thin-slice technique I’m describing here. The feather bones may also have been removed by your butcher.)
Then take your now boneless roast and position it for carving thin slices. Cut through parallel to the cooked ends. Give those end pieces to people who like their meat more well-done or medium.
Voila! Carved roast ready to put on people’s plates.
(And yes, I am channeling the ghost of Julia Child with my wine glass in the frame!)
I plated the rib roast with sides of manchego sweet potato gratin, sautéed kale with lemon, and a cannellini bean stew with walnuts (the latter because there was a vegetarian dining with us so I needed at least one side dish that could do double duty as a protein-heavy main). Yum…