Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Roast

Nothing says meat better than a beef rib roast. In our family, there's a tradition of serving one of these beasts for an early dinner on Christmas Day along with Yorkshire pudding and the mandatory mashed potatoes. It doesn't hurt that one of the sisters-in-law works for a meat distributor in Baltimore. Have you checked the price of beef lately?

You don't do much to a rib roast other than seasoning it aggressively with salt and pepper. Getting it to the table is really more about technique than anything else. Do you like your meat rare? Medium? Well done? It is critical that you know in advance what sort of meat you want to be serving. From there, it's all about timing.

Most of the advice you read about doneness in recipe books is all wrong. In fact, as we prepared our roast for the oven, we read in one book or another that to serve our beef rare, we would need to cook it to an internal temperature of 140. It advised 170 for well done. Either would have resulted in something like shoe leather.

One thing many cooks fail to take into account is that a large roast (even a smaller one) continues to cook even after you pull it out of the oven. A very large roast cooked at a high temperature will build up such a head of steam that it will "coast" for quite some distance. Just sitting on the cutting board, the internal temperature will continue to rise 10 degrees or more. We learned this the hard way at past Christmas dinners, wherein we pulled the roast from the oven at what we thought was an ideal temperature for juicy and rare, only to slice into something closer to well done because we had to wait so long for everyone to get to the table.

Consequently, I've learned to undershoot the temperature a little, and since temperature is so important--really, the only way to gauge a tender roast's doneness--it pays to have a highly accurate and reliable thermometer. If you can afford a roast like this, you can certainly afford the cost of a good digital thermometer, the kind with a probe that you can insert into the roast for the entire cooking time. An oven-safe cord connects the probe to a sensor with an alarm that will sound when your desired temperature has been reached. The sensor usually has a magnet on the back so you can hang it on the refrigerator door and walk away while your meat cooks.

Typically we take the meat out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for a few hours to come up to room temperature. That will speed up the cooking time. This year, our digital thermometer--with the probe inserted squarely in the middle--showed the roast to be 56 degrees cool before we put it in the oven. May aim was to bring it up to 115 degrees for a fairly rare result.

After seasoning the meat top and bottom, I preheat the oven to 500 degrees. A half hour at 500 degrees (meat up, bones down) develops some nice browning and crustiness on the roast. I then reduce the heat to 325. I've read that some beef houses like to cook their rib roasts at very low heat for several hours to achieve that perfectly rosy interior. Using my method, a 12-pound roast is done in about 1 1/2 hours.

If you are looking for something closer to medium rare, shoot for an internal temperature of 120. Once it comes out of the oven, let the roast sit on its cutting board for 15 or 20 minutes so the juices can redistribute themselves. Cut the roast too early and all the juices just run out of it. When it's finally ready and people are seating themselves, I like to cut the meat away from the rib bones all in one piece. This makes for much easier carving at table.

You can separate the rack into individual bones and pass these around the table on a platter. Some of your guests will enjoy gnawing on them as a sort of appetizer. I know I do.


Beverly said...

Yeah, but...but... what is the new dish in your header? YUMMO!

Short-ribs on barley and beans; plus grilled veggies? OMG It makes my mouth water!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Ed Bruske said...

Beverly, glad you like the new picture in the header. I'm trying to alternate them according to season. You were very close with your guess. In fact, this is our favorite chollent, or Jewish pot roast beef braised a long time in the oven with barley and pink beans. The root vegetabels were roasted on the side.

Chris said...

I took our roast beef (a bone-in rump roast) out of the oven when it was 120 and when we carved it 10 minutes later the center was practically raw. It was beef from a locally raised, grass-fed steer, so I felt confident about eating "roast tartar," but I have a feeling my thermometer needs to be re-calibrated.

Ed Bruske said...

Chris, it's hard to tell from your comment what kind of thermometer you were using. When you say it may need to be recalibrated, that tells me maybe it's an some sort of analogue guage, perhaps an instant-read thermometer? With those sorts of thermometers there is another issue: the location of the actual sensor on the probe. On many of them, the sensor is actually about 1 1/2 inches from the tip of the probe, or needle, indicated by a small indent. On others, it is much closer to the tip. Thus, how you insert the probe into the meat can make a huge difference. The sensor needs to be in the middle of the roast to get an accurate reading.

If you are using a an adujustable thermometer, plunge it into a glass of ice water. The reading should be very near 32 degrees. If not, use a small pair of plyers to turn the dial to the correct position.

Peg A said...

Helpful advice, thanks! Now I wan to go cook a roast soon...