Prime Rib Roast: Suggestions from the Pros

Prime Rib RoastOther than Haggis, the carnivores in our family prefer Prime Rib for our big Christmas meal.  Personally, I have always thought Thérèse does a great job of cooking Prime Rib, owing mainly to the fact that she uses that secret spice:  Fenugreek.   She claims that she was introduced to this culinary stroke of genius by Rosemary “Grand Dame” Gourmay, who presumably was just following a recipe handed down by her parents.  Whatever the origins, Funugreek works great on prime rib, but the pungent smell will linger in your home for several days.

(Editor’s Note: As reported earlier in Gourmay,  “Fenugreek seed is also widely used as a galactagogue (milk producing agent) by nursing mothers to increase inadequate breast milk supply. Studies have shown that fenugreek is a potent stimulator of breast milk production and its use was associated with increases in milk production. It can be found in capsule form in many health food stores.  This is good news as we have a new and expectant mother joining us for Christmas dinner this year.)

Having a great cut of meat is essential.  Other than salt, pepper a touch of flour (to improve crusting) and fenugreek, the real test of a cook’s meddle is how the meat is prepped and then roasted.   While we don’t plan on any major changes this year, I do think it would be useful to expound on a few roasting suggestions by some serious culinary professionals.

The recent Cook’s illustrated attempts to duplicate a cooking technique that employs a blowtorch and roasting the prime rib for 18 hours at 120ºF.  Needless to say, neither the test kitchen experts at Cook’s Illustrated or our already taxed Gourmay’s kitchen staff were prepared to replicate this technique.  Nevertheless, there are a couple of suggestions that we plan to follow:

  • Moisture needs to be removed from the meat to improve crusting.  One way of doing this is by applying a dry rub of sea salt and allow the roast to sit on a rack uncovered in the refrigerator for anywhere from 24 to 96 hours.  This has the effect of reducing surplus fluids from the roast.  We plan on aging the dry-rub roast for 48 hours.
  • Have your butcher cut the loin off the ribs but reapply with string and cook the roast with the bones.  It distributes the oven heat more evenly.

In a similar vein,  J. Kenji Lopez-Alt who is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab, provides a beautiful and colorful analysis to achieve roasting perfection.  According to Mr. Lopez-Alt, the perfectly roasted prime rib must satisfy these three conditions or Commandments:

Commandment I:   The Perfect Prime Rib must have a deep brown, crisp, crackly, salty crust on its exterior.

Commandment II:   In the Perfect Prime Rib, the gradient at the interface between the brown crust and the perfectly medium-rare interior must be absolutely minimized (as in, I don’t want a layer of overcooked meat around the edges).

Commandment III:   The Perfect Prime Rib must retain as many juices as possible.

For those interested in both the science and experimentation of Mr. Lopez-Alt’s search for excellence, I refer you to his Food Lab Blog.   It makes for compelling reading.    In effect, Mr. Lopez-Alt recommends cooking the roast at a low temperature (200ºF is about as low as most consumer ovens can reliably hold the desired temperature) until the internal temperature of the roast is around 120ºF (medium rare).   Take the roast out and allow to sit for between 20 to 30 minutes and turn the oven up to 550ºF.   Place the roast back into the oven for 6 to 8 minutes to crust the surface (now that the excess moisture has been removed) and then cut and serve immediately.

Editor’s Note:  The technique is sound, but what about the gravy and other uses for the oven?  These are issues that will be decided  by Thérèse, but a combination of removing the moisture (brining and aging) and roasting at a high temperature for a brief period of time will give you the best crust.

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