Prime rib for two
Never mind your basic turkey ... that's just poultry. For real, serious holiday dining, there's no substitute for prime rib.
Its popular name is somewhat misleading, as you'll rarely find beef graded "prime," the top U.S. Department of Agriculture grade, in most grocery stores. The alternative moniker, "standing rib roast," is closer to the mark, as this tasty block of beef rib eye meat is usually roasted, and often served, standing tall on the rack of ribs to which the tender meat is attached.
A prime rib roast is often the centerpiece for a family gathering or good-size dinner party, as it's most often sold in three-bone or four-bone roasts that weigh 6 to 9 pounds and that can command breathtaking prices topping $50 or more.
But what if you want a discreet little prime rib dinner for two? The simple answer might be, "head for a local steak house." But it's possible for a couple - or even a singleton - to enjoy prime rib at home without two weeks of leftovers.
Start by seeking out a single-rib cut, which is essentially a thick, bone-on rib eye steak that contains only one bone and should weigh around 2 pounds (a bit less than 1 kilo). It will probably be only 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick, too thin to stand up in the traditional way, but be assured that a lying-down rib roast tastes just as good.
There's surprisingly little information about cooking a smallish rib roast online or in cookbooks, and I was reluctant to adapt a standard large-roast recipe for a piece of beef this small, fearing that I'd end up with either raw or charred meat. But the following technique - based on my standard approach for thicker steaks, a quick stovetop sear followed by a relatively short stay in the oven - yielded a perfect roast that ranged from medium at the edges to a delicious warm pink at the center. Because both roasts and ovens will vary, a quick-read meat thermometer is strongly recommended rather than relying on cooking time alone.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
Single-rib beef rib roast, about 2 pounds (less than 1 kilo)
1. Cut the garlic into slivers and poke them into slits all over the roast. Dust it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put it on a plate and leave at room temperature for an hour or two.
2. Preheat oven to 400F (200C).
3. Put a small amount of olive oil in a heavy, black-iron skillet, just enough to paint the surface with a thin coat. Sear the roast on one side for 2 minutes, then turn and brown the other side for 1 minute. Then put it in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 225F (100C) and roast for about 20 minutes more, checking the meat temperature toward the end to ensure that it's cooking to your liking. Aim for 130F (55C) at the center for rare or 140F (60C) for medium, bearing in mind that the meat will continue to cook for a few moments after you take it out of the oven. (Yes, you can cook it longer for well-done, but why would you want to do that?)
4. Remove the roast from the oven and move it to a warm plate. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before carving. For convenience, I like to trim off the bones and any gristly end bits to leave a pretty, lean "eye" for slicing.
OPTIONAL EXTRA: To make the feast a little more traditional, I roasted some tiny new potatoes and small whole onions along with the beef. Because the short roasting time wouldn't be long enough to cook the potatoes and onions through, I gave them a head start by gently braising them for 20 minutes in a covered saucepan with about 1 tablespoon of melted butter with a smashed garlic clove and a little salt and pepper, then lifted them out of the melted butter and put them in the skillet around the seared beef before popping it in the oven.
MATCHING WINE: Fine roast beef calls for fine red wine, and we celebrated Christmas dinner with two good ones from the cellar: Livio Felluga 1999 "Sossó" Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Rosso Riserva and Chateau Monbousquet 1995 Saint-Emilion. The specifics aren't important, but do treat this festive dish to something special in the dry red wine department.
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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
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