Always dependable as a Sunday dinner roast, prime rib has often found itself neglected in restaurants in favor of more fashionable steaks. Certainly, higher beef prices mean that this large, seven-rib beef roast is vulnerable to wastage, but few cuts offer such succulent, tender meat. A whole prime rib might be hard to find, but slow cooking with minimal interference yields a spectacular result.
The Lowdown on Prime
- Also known as a standing rib roast, prime rib is cut from the rib section of the steer from the sixth rib near the shoulder to the twelfth rib near the loin.
- Rib eye steak is cut from the prime rib, but is cooked quickly over a direct heat, whereas prime rib demands a slow roast.
- Bought as a whole rack, prime rib comprises seven sturdy ribs supporting a large medallion of marbled meat, with a thick flap of fat on top.
- An entire rack can weigh in at more than 20 pounds, but butchers are typically willing to cut the rack into the chuck end, which has more fat, and the loin end, which is leaner and more tender.
- Prime rib is an expensive cut of meat, but the rewards are moist slices of full-flavored beef with an unctuous fat crust.
- The color can range from dark purple to red, depending on how long the meat has been exposed to oxygen.
- Some prime rib is dry aged for months, usually for a minimum of 3 weeks, which intensifies the flavor and texture but gives the rib a wizened appearance.
Prime rib needs a lot seasoning to balance the strong beef flavors, with salt essential in drawing out the moisture from the meat as a precursor to browning. Rub the meat all over with a dry rub of salt, pepper, garlic and herbs, and leave to marinate overnight (covered) in the refrigerator. Allow the meat to return to room temperature before cooking.
Although the bones do not contribute to the meat’s flavor during cooking as much as many assume, the ribs themselves are useful in sealing in the moisture on that side of the round. Even if the ribs are separated before cooking, they should be tied on with chef’s twine and removed later, at which point carving will be easier.
Lay the seasoned prime rib in a roasting tray on the bones, not the meat, and start the rack off in a moderate oven, at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The aim with prime rib is to have a crisp fat layer and a moist, pink interior.
With such a big roast, the only reliable gauge of doneness is a cook’s thermometer inserted into the center. At an internal temperature of 125 degrees F, the meat is moist and juicy but still pink. Little is gained in either flavor or texture by allowing the internal temperature to rise above 140 degrees F, or medium, beyond which the meat becomes dry and chewy.
After 3 or 4 hours, depending on the size of the rack, raise the oven to its hottest setting, upwards of 450 degrees, and finish with a high sear to brown the outside. Browning doesn’t start until the surface reaches 310 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the roast from the oven, cover with foil, and allow it to rest. At this point, the carryover heat will raise the internal temperature a little and the moisture inside will consolidate.
With a bone-in prime rib, hold the rack upright by the bones and slice downwards with a flexible knife. The bone section should fall away once you reach the base, and can either be reserved for stock or gnawed on. Trim away any hunks of fat, according to taste, lay the round flat, and cut along its length with a sharp knife into thin slices.
Traditionally, roast beef pairs well with a fiery horseradish sauce, but arguably nothing beats a red wine jus. Pour off any excess fat from the roasting pan and deglaze what remains with red wine, breaking loose any crispy slivers of meat. Pour the liquid into a heavy saucepan and build a jus with stock, aromatics and herbs such as bay leaf and thyme. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes until it thickens, then strain through a sieve to produce a translucent sauce ready to dress the beef slices.