Prime Rib Alert

I am pleased to announce that Thérèse and Trish “the Dish” have picked up the Christmas Day Prime Rib from our favorite local butcher and market, LaRocca’s Country Market.

Prime Rib

I have written extensively on best practices when it comes to preparing and cooking prime rib, so for those just getting started, please refer to previous Gourmay articles on the subject:

Now, I have been lobbying for quite some time to reverse the usual baking process by cooking the prime rib at 200° F until the internal temperature reaches 120°F and then crust the outside under high heat for about 8 minutes.  Thérèse sternly advises me that this is not going to happen this year – and perhaps never!

In any event, I will be priming the roast with a sea salt rub this evening and  then place the roast uncovered on a rack in the refrigerator for 48 hours.  This allows the excess fluids to be released to allow the surface of the roast to crisp better.   Before roasting on Christmas Day, we cover the roast with a mixture of flour, salt and pepper and that miracle of all spices, Fenugreek.   (Editor’s Note:  Prime Rib without a hint of Fenugreek is like Christmas without a Christmas tree).

For vegetarians and animal activists, we will also be serving roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

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.

How to Cook Prime Rib of Beef

Prime rib has long been been a traditional Christmas Day favorite for the May family until Abigail became a vegetarian and Miranda decided she didn’t want to eat animals she liked:  who would have thought she would have developed a crush on a cow?

David "Bogey" Pinson carving Prime Rib

David carving Prime Ribs

As such, for the better part of 20 years, Sheila and I have had to tiptoe around the peculiar dietary habits of our daughters.  This Christmas, we imported some of Sheila’s Texas relatives to weight the voting in our favor.    I would like to share our recipe for prime ribs which is strongly influence by my mother, Rosemary “Grand Dame”  May.  The secret to cooking memorable prime ribs is the use of that delightful Indian spice:  Fenugreek.

Fenugreek or trigonella foenum-graecum (as Lord Cheseline of Maiden Lot prefers)  is an ancient spice cultivated in the Near East and often found in curries .  What I didn’t know is that Fenugreek aids in breastfeeding.    Given my biological limitations, I am not able to provide any first-hand evidence to support this claim.  In any event, this is a great spice to enhance the taste of meat.  I have experimented with many varieties of meat and fenugreek always super-charges the flavor.  Nevertheless, I have now decided that the flavor of fenugreek is so aromatic that it is best reserved for those special ocassions when you serve prime rib.

Recipe for Prime Ribs


  • Recommend 3/4 lb to 1 lb per person (bone-in standing prime rib roast) for ample left-overs.
  • Have your butcher cut the roast off the chine bone or backbone and firmly tie the roast to the chine bone
  • We recommend using prime beef (not aged)
  • Gently pat the roast (at room temperature) with a mixture of 3 parts salt, 1 part pepper and 1 part fenugreek and some flour.  (Precise mixture subject to taste, but a little flour helps browning).  Sheila often uses a wooden spoon to pat the mixture onto the roast.
David applying fenugreek mixture to prime rib

David applying fenugreek mixture to prime ribs


  • Preheat oven to 450°
  • Roast for 15 minutes at 450° and lower temperature to 325°
  • For medium rare  estimate 20 minutes a pound.  The internal temperature should be 125°
  • Allow the roast to rest (uncovered please!) for at least 20 minutes before serving.  Actually, the roast can rest for 30 minutes or longer,

This is a simple and very tasty piece of meat.  The juices make for great gravy which should be served with Yorkshire pudding (more later) and mashed potatoes.  The aromatic smell of fenugreek will linger in your kitchen for at least two days.