Cooking prime rib roast: a revelation

Roasting beef at a low temperature for a

Roasting beef at a low temperature for a long time results in meat that's an even medium-rare all the way through. (Dec. 25, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)

What's the best way to cook a standing rib roast?

The standing rib roast, aka prime rib, is the king of roast beefs. A choice roast sells for $10 to $15 a pound; a prime roast can go for up to $25 a pound. (The "prime" in "prime rib" refers to the cut of meat; it does not signify that the meat has been graded prime by the USDA.) With such an expensive cut of meat, you want to be sure you don't mess it up.

Until recently, I'd been a high-heat roaster, starting my beef in a 450-degree ove, then turning it down to 350 for the duration. Over the years, I'd heard tell of folks roasting the meat at a very low temperature for a very long time, but I'd always been turned off by the recipes because they invariably started with browning the meat in a pan before roasting it. I understood the reasoning: meat cooked at a low temperature never browns, and who wants to eat a rib roast that lacks a crisp, crackling, brown crust?

But who wants to sear an irregularly shaped seven-pound roast in a pan on the stovetop? Not me.

Then, I came across a recipe on chow.com that cut the Gordian knot. It has you roasting the meat at 200 degrees for 4 to 6 hours, and instead of browning the meat before roasting, you brown it just before serving. I tried the recipe recently, and it worked like a dream. Instead of the usual medium-well exterior and rare center, the meat was a uniformly pink medium-rare throughout. It gave up virtually no juice when carved -- all the juice stayed in the meat.

I am a changed woman, and I offer my adaptation of the recipe herewith.

Bear in mind that this recipe requires a meat thermometer, preferably an instant-read or an electronic probe thermometer, the former available for less than $10; the latter, less than $20.

SLOW-ROASTED PRIME RIB

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed (optional)

1 (3-bone) standing beef rib roast (6 to 8 pounds)

1. The night before you plan to serve the roast, combine the salt, pepper and garlic (if using). Smear the mixture all over the meat. Place the roast on a large plate or baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.

2. The next day, remove the roast from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour. (The longer it stays out, the shorter the cooking time will be.) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and arrange a rack in the lower third. Place the roast -- fat-side up, bones-down -- on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. It's important that air circulate around the meat while it cooks so you may have to elevate the rack by placing 4 scrunched-up balls of aluminum foil underneath it. Roast until the center reaches 120 degrees, about 4 to 6 hours.

3. Place the roasting pan on a wire rack, tent the roast loosely with foil and set aside for an hour. During this rest, the meat will continue to cook and the juices will settle evenly throughout the roast. Go ahead and cook anything else you're serving. About 30 minutes before dinner, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

4. Take the foil tent and crumble it into a ball. Place the ball under the bones of the roast to prop up the less-exposed area of fat. Roast at 450 degrees until a dark brown crust forms over the entire top surface, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the roast to a cutting board and carve immediately; it does not need to rest again. To carve, carefully cut the meat away from the rib bones in one piece, then slice into 1/2-inch portions. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Mea Culpa, Modena

In a recent column, I wrote that "Modena, in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, is famous for two things: the aged elixir known as balsamic vinegar and Luciano Pavarotti." Shortly thereafter, I got an email from Nick Saridakis of Hampton Bays that informed me I had "committed a terrible omission." Modena, he wrote, "is at least equally famous for being the area where Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis are built. I know they're only cars, but to a substantial number of people around the world, Modena is something like hallowed ground."

Point taken.