A rib roast is a beautiful beast. It is a celebration, a statement, a lusty carnivore’s great love, and damn good eating.
Cook it simply. The beast stands on its own: a savory, juicy mass of flavor that needs only to be respected, not over-handled. Coat it lightly with seasoning to bring out its deep, resonant flavor, then put it in the oven and do not hover. Don’t ignore it either– allow it just the right amount of time on its own (a little over 2 hours for a 4-rib, 8-10 pound roast), then check the temperature. At 125°F to 130°F, it will be red (not blue) in the very center– a perfect medium rare.
You may choose to serve your roast with sauce, such as this Bourbon Bain Sauce, which combines the warm flavor of bourbon with the piquancy of chutney and a hint of sweet ketchup. (Make a big batch to also serve with burgers, ordinary steaks, and chicken. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a week or so, and may also be frozen.) We made this Bourbon Bain sauce to go with our Black Pepper Spice Rubbed Rib Roast: for a quick video tutorial for the sauce and the roast, click here.
I have loved many beautiful beasts over the years. Herb Crusted Standing Rib Roast such as this is classic, and for good reason. The Molasses and Black Pepper Crusted version below is beyond simple, but those two humble ingredients (and just a little dried thyme) have a way of both enhancing and balancing the pure meatiness of the the roast.
My mother used to make roast beef (aka prime rib, aka rib roast, aka standing rib roast) on Sunday nights. She dredged the roast in flour, put it in the oven and, as she said, “an hour before the roast is ready, cut onions over it.” The onions roasted in the meat drippings, which made them rich and savory and sweet. Of all the beasts I have ever loved, my mother’s prime rib was my favorite. After she took the roast out of the oven and transferred it to her carving board to rest, she made Yorkshire pudding in the roasting pan. Some Sundays it would puff into a magical, golden bread at least twice as high as the roasting pan. Other times, as she pulled the pan out of the oven, the pudding would sink down along with her face. (This is why I recommend making Yorkshire puddings in popover tins, which give a far more reliable result.) I have made roast beef many times according to my mother’s instructions, and I will tell you that unless she is here to do it, I will forgo the flour-dredging in favor of these other methods.
Here are some important practical matters to think about for your rib roast.
How much prime rib roast to buy:
Butchers tell you to assume about 1 pound of bone-in rib roast per person. But you don’t usually buy a rib roast by weight, you buy it by the number of ribs. A four-rib roast will weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, and will serve 10 people. If you have a gathering of bone-eaters, you may want to pick up a few extra ribs to throw in the pan. (Not only will you make everyone happy, you will be able to do so while buying a slightly smaller standing rib roast.)
How long to cook your prime rib roast:
After you have spent so very much money on this great celebratory roast, you want to be sure you do not over- or under-cook it. Whatever time a recipe may tell you, it is only a guideline. Doneness is a matter of internal temperature, and ovens, roast size and shape, and roasting pans all may contribute to cooking time. The key is to use an instant read meat thermometer, insert it so the tip is in the very center of the meat, and use the following temperature guidelines:
RARE: 115-120 F. Deep red and barely warm to the touch in the center
MEDIUM RARE: 125-130F Deep red only in the very center; lighter red for most of the meat, with the outermost edges light brown
MEDIUM: 140-145F Pink in the center, gray or light brown elsewhere
MEDIUM WELL: 150F Gray or light brown throughout, with slightly lighter gray/brown in the center