Learn how to cook a prime rib roast and put together a fabulous Christmas dinner menu, including side dishes and wine. It’s easier than you think!
Christmas dinner is one of the most important meals of the year…one for which you’ll definitely want to put your best foot forward. Actually, a better choice for the table would be a tender, juicy, bone-in prime rib roast.
Tradition runs deep at Christmastime, and the prime rib roast is dripping with tradition as much as it’s dripping with its own savory jus. The English perfected its presentation before importing America’s native turkey and adopting it as the go-to Christmas roast. But here in the States, we eat so much turkey at Thanksgiving that for many it’s hard to imagine doing it all over again a month later. And when you consider that our wide-open plains produce some of the finest beef in the world, this cultural swap makes a lot of sense.
First off, the word “prime” is somewhat misleading. It does not reflect the official USDA grading system (Prime, Choice, Select) regarding the fat content, or “marbling,” of beef. It only means that it is the most desirable part of the rib section of the beef. Now, about that “rib section”…what cut of meat is prime rib?
This cut is not part of a rack of ribs such as one might barbecue; the traditional beef spareribs are actually a section of the rib cage which is slowly cooked to tenderize the meat between the bones. The prime rib roast is the section of the loin, or backstrap, that rests along the spine and atop the rib cage. A bone-in or “standing” rib roast is cut with part of the ribs still attached, allowing it to “stand” so the meat doesn’t touch the roasting pan. A boneless rib roast has been cut away from the ribs and the spine.
A rib roast consists of a center part (loin muscle), called the “eye,” and an outer, fat-marbled muscle called the “cap.” A rib roast may be sliced into individual steaks; when the cap and outer fat is trimmed away it is known as “rib eye steak.”
For your special Christmas dinner, you’re going to want to splurge on quality. You could go for a truly prime prime rib, as in USDA Certified Prime, but those heavily marbled beauties with all that sumptuous fat generally go to top restaurants and are hard to come by. It may be better to instead seek out a fine aged prime rib roast. Aged beef is similarly hard to find in the supermarket, but you’ll find aged prime rib and other cuts for sale online that come right to your door.
How Much Prime Rib per Person? The typical prime rib serving size is around 10 ounces per person; a roast weighing 7–7½ pounds should serve 11 or 12 people.
Some people are intimidated by the thought of cooking prime rib because it’s an expensive cut of meat. In reality, it’s a pretty simple process. Because this cut is tender and generally well marbled, it does not require marinating or braising in liquid. The best way to cook prime rib is slow roasting in dry heat, either in an oven or over indirect heat on a covered grill (preferably on a rotisserie). It’s pretty low-maintenance, and actually bastes itself with the fat left on its outside. For equipment, all you really need is a metal roasting pan and an instant-read meat thermometer.
Here’s how to roast your Christmas prime rib:
Well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit because we haven’t discussed the rest of the menu yet…but since you asked and we are talking about cooking, here’s how:
Hopefully you’ve been carving off slices as needed so you still have a large chunk left over. Simply reheat in a slow oven (no more searing over high heat) until it reaches the internal temperature at which you served it. Then, if you like (and we do), sear the outside in a hot skillet to brown it up again.
Of course, you can reheat it in a microwave, but we wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a temperature probe. It won’t take long to overcook your masterpiece.
Now about the rest of the menu…
So what are the best side dishes for prime rib?
Side: The classic British accompaniment is Yorkshire pudding. No, not the sweet dessert pudding we grew up with in America, but something resembling a popover. It’s plenty easy, but remember: this is classic British cuisine…and to those who didn’t grow up with it, it can be pretty bland. A more flavor-packed side would be a loaded baked potato, or a comforting casserole containing the same ingredients.
Condiment: Many purists want nothing more than a simple au jus treatment for their roast (hint: au jus [oh zhoo] means “with juice”; it’s a phrase, not a thing), but a creamy, zesty horseradish sauce is delightful with prime rib.
Salad: The bacon-and-blue cheese-loaded wedge salad served by traditional steakhouses as a starter is making a comeback, and is a fabulous way of dressing up the crunch of iceberg lettuce.
Dessert: Chocolate or devil's food—like a red velvet cake—will complement the red wine you'll likely want to serve with your roast.
This one’s easy. While the “red with meat, white with fish” rules have been relaxed somewhat in today’s laissez-faire culinary climate (really, should there even be rules about food?), some things just naturally go together. The wine should be red. The British would drink what they call a claret, which is their term for a Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is a wine region (some would say THE wine region) in France. The wines there are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, with other grapes sometimes added for depth. These wines tend to be big, dry and full of flavor.
Of course, Cabernet and Merlot grapes are grown in many regions. A Cab/Merlot blend called Meritage (a marketing term that rhymes with heritage) is California’s version of Bordeaux, and California Zinfandel (NOT White Zinfandel) is an intense red that’s great with beef. Also, don’t forget about South America. Argentina in particular is beef country, and is the home of some excellent Malbec wines (a grape originally from the Bordeaux region) that go very well with grilled steaks and roast prime rib.
Burgundy (pinot noir) is too light in body and flavor to match up with beef for most people’s taste, but is a great option for those who can’t handle the tannins that give deep reds their dryness and give some folks headaches. And if you really can’t drink reds at all (you’re not alone), a buttery, oaky Chardonnay will be your best bet. Better yet, pour a nice sparkling Champagne for the perfect effervescent contrast and really celebrate the moment.
With these simple tips in mind—and a premium aged roast chilling in the fridge—you’ll be ready for a Christmas dinner that will be remembered for years.
© 2017 Tender Filet