The Virtual Gourmand: Column No. 8A: Non-Turkey Talk: Three Alternatives to a Holiday Bird
Last year around this time, The Virtual Gourmand focused its energies towards the holiday table. We prepared a turkey two different ways along with side dishes and desserts, and even addressed the 'problem' of what to do with the inevitable leftovers. Quite frankly, we ate so much turkey that we weren't really crazy about the idea of having it once again during the holidays this year.
I suspect we are not alone in wanting something other than turkey for the holiday table in 2007. With that in mind, this year's series of columns will take a different approach, and focus on other festive roasts that you can cook for your holiday table - prime rib, beef tenderloin and glazed ham.
Here are some pictures of the ones I use:
A heavy-gauge metal roasting pan and a non-stick roasting rack will serve you well throughout the year.
A combination probe thermometer and timer is a valuable to have in the kitchen year-round.
The prime rib is typically cut from the 6th through the 12th bones of the rib section. It can be labeled as prime rib, standing rib roast, or just rib roast. As I covered in my article on steak, you ideally want your meat to be either Prime or Top Choice grade (USDA regulations for meat labeling allow this cut to be referred to as "prime rib" regardless of the grade of meat), with plenty of marbling throughout the meat and about a half-inch cap of fat around the outside of the roast. How large a roast you choose should be based upon the number of guests you plan to feed. I would allow about a half-pound of meat per guest, and buy accordingly. Typically, a 3-bone roast will adequately feed 6 to 8 hungry adults with some left over. Then there is the question of the bones. Personally, I feel that meat roasts better on the bone, and I have no trouble carving it off the bone. Others might differ, so it is up to you whether or not to have your butcher trim the bones for you. If you choose the trim route, I strongly suggest that you ask the butcher to tie the bones back onto the roast. That way you reap the benefits of the bones during the roasting process and a roast that will still be easy to carve. For demonstration purposes, I am making a two-bone, approximately 4 pound roast.
A well-marbled (Top Choice), two bone prime rib roast. Approximately four pounds, it will easily feed six people with a little left over.
To age or not to age?
Traditionally, beef was aged (or "hanged", to use the old phrase) at a controlled temperature for at least 21 days. Exposure to the air over time deepened the flavor of the beef and broke down a lot of connective tissue that could otherwise be tough.
These days, most people don't have adequate equipment to produce traditionally dry-aged beef at home. Given the amount of lost weight and trimming that dry-aging requires commercially, it can be quite pricey to purchase pre-aged. Still, many of the benefits of dry-aging can still be achieved by the home cook. About a week before you plan to cook the roast, remove it from the packaging. Rinse and wrap it in in a clean dishtowel (larger roasts might be better covered with a small clean bath towel) so that none of the meat is exposed to the air. Place it on the middle shelf at the back of your refrigerator. Change the towel each day until blood stops leeching into the fabric. Once that occurs, wrap the roast one last time in a clean towel, and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. Any mold that occurs (it should not) must be trimmed off prior to roasting.
The same roast after 5 days of dry-aging. You can see that the roast has darkened considerably in the aging process.
Now that the roast is aged and the time to prepare it is here, let's get it ready for the oven. First, pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees about 6 hours before you plan to serve the roast. Bring the beef out of the fridge and unwrap it. With your roasting pan in front of you, place the meat on the rack inside the pan. Rub it down all over with vegetable oil - don't skimp on the oil - and then generously coat it with Kosher salt and cracked black peppercorns. Place the beef on the roasting rack with the fat cap facing up. Take your probe thermometer and measure the distance to the center of the roast by placing it on top of the roast with the point where the center is. Grip the probe at the point where the edge of the meat is. Holding it thusly, insert it into the side of the roast until your fingers touch the edge of the meat.
Seasoned and probe inserted, the 'roast is' ready to roast.
Place the roast into the oven and set your probe thermometer for the desired doneness. For rare, set it to 128 degrees. For medium-rare, set it to 138 degrees. For medium, set it to 148 degrees. If your guests want it more well-done than that, you'd be best advised to take their individual portion and put it under the broiler rather than cook the whole roast to a higher temperature. Keep in mind that the portions closer to the ends will be more done and the portions closer to the center will be rarer.
It is quite likely that your roast will be done long before you intend to serve it. Don't panic. This is actually a step built into the process that will help you to get the entire meal to the table at one time-especially if you only have one oven to work with and a lot of dishes that need to be baked. . . When the roast is at temp, take it out, set it aside and cover it with aluminum foil to help keep it warm. Twenty to forty minutes before you are ready to serve it, set the broiler to 450 degrees and return the roast to the oven. Broil the roast until it achieves the desired level of crust that you like on your fat cap. Remove the roast from the oven, re-cover it with foil and let it rest for twenty minutes before carving. This allows the juices - which the heat of the oven will have drawn towards the surface - to re-distribute themselves throughout the roast. If you were to carve the roast hot out of the oven, those juices would run out onto your carving board, and the meat would be very noticeably drier as a result.
The finished roast, resting before carving.
Carving the roast is a simple matter. If you've had the butcher tie the bones back on, you can merely cut the string holding everything together and slice the roast into the portions your guests desire. If not, you will want to stand the roast on end while holding the bones with one hand. With the other hand, place the knife (an electric knife makes this task even easier) up against the bones and slice along them until you come to the chine bone at the bottom. There is a slight bump at the chine you'll have to cut around to remove the bones completely. Once the bones are removed, turn the roast to the fat-cap facing up position and slice it into appropriate portions. Personally, I find the bones the tastiest part of the roast, and I generally gnaw the meat off of them in the kitchen before I bring the roast out to my guests. Plus, those bones (gnawed or not) will also make any dog that may be around your best friend for the rest of the day.
Carving the bones from the roast is even easier if an electric knife is used.
Many people (and I am one of them) like a little horseradish sauce to dip their prime rib in. Here's an easy recipe for one:
" C. mayonnaise
2 T. horseradish (the fresher, the better-it loses potency with age)
" t. garlic powder
" t. dry mustard
Tabasco sauce to taste
Mix all ingredients and refrigerate to allow flavors to combine. 4 hours is usually enough time to accomplish this.
Another traditional side dish with prime rib is Yorkshire pudding. This is an incredibly easy dish to prepare, but there is a bit of a trick to it. An hour before you plan to bake the puddings, mix together:
¾ C. all-purpose flour
" t. salt
¾ C. milk
Combine thoroughly and refrigerate. It is important for the batter to be cold right up until baking time. When you are ready to bake the puddings, heat your oven to 425 degrees and coat your muffin tin with " C. of the drippings from your roast, distributed evenly among the cups. Place the muffin tin in the oven for 5 minutes to heat up the fat. Remove and fill each cup with an ice-cream scoop's worth of your chilled batter. Return to the oven and bake until puddings are golden-brown and puffy - about 10 minutes.
A perfectly done Yorkshire pudding.
The finished prime rib, served with horseradish sauce, scalloped potatoes, and garlicky sauteed green beans with slivered almonds.
I think my kids look forward to the leftovers from this dish almost as much as the main holiday meal itself. What I make with the leftovers is Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. Slice the remaining roast as thinly as you can (I use my deli slicer for this task, but you could just as easily use a sharp carving knife. Slice an onion and a bell pepper very thinly, and grill them on a hot griddle with a little butter and a pinch of salt. Once the onions and peppers are done, place bun-sized piles of the thinly-sliced beef on the griddle and heat the meat through. Put slices of your favorite cheese (I like provolone for this) on top and begin to melt the cheese. Transfer the meat and cheese to a split hoagie roll, top with the onions and peppers, and serve.
Leftovers never had it better.
Contributing Editor and CW Executive Chef Jason Clabaugh (BigO) hailed from New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and has settled in a suburb of Atlanta. With the addition of a new baby to his family he's refocused his energies on fatherhood and a new project bringing his famous mango-habanero salsa and unique barbecue sauces into commercial production.