It starts now: the season for roasting large cuts of meat, be they whole birds or primals of beef, pork or lamb.
It’s an act of faith, I think, to hoist your investment–a carefully sourced chunk of protein, no doubt–into the oven and hope for the best. Or perhaps it only feels that way because we’re so unaccustomed to it. That includes me.
A classic rib roast
Recently, Travel Oregon asked me to revisit one of the celebratory roasts from my cookbook Pure Beef, Grassfed 4-Bone Rib Roast on Hay and Herbs. Despite the novelty of the hay, this is a classic holiday roast recipe.
It reminded me that roasting is one of the most hands-free cooking methods that is also perfectly suited to feasts at this time of year. Roasting only requires good seasoning, technology and a little trust.
How to season a rib roast?
Generously! With a great, high-quality cut of meat like this, I use nothing but salt but I encourage a free hand with it. (That is why there is no measurement in the recipe because the amount will be determined by the weight and shape of your rib roast.) I use kosher salt because the crystals are easy to control and direct over the meat.
For best control, pour the salt into a ramekin, then user your fingers to shower (not sprinkle) the roast all over, including the fat cap. It will probably look like too much but if it looks like a light sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar, you’re in the right arena. When salted in advance of cooking, the salt works its way into the muscle and seasoning the meat beautifully and will not be too salty.
How to cook a rib roast?
A big hunk of relatively tender beef like rib roast welcomes high heat. The roast starts off in a hot oven and then you reduce the temperature to cook it all the way through. The timing varies too much to make strict time predictions, which is why the one essential tool is a meat thermometer.
As expensive as it is, the Thermapen pays for itself over and over again because of its speed and accuracy. Probe-type thermometers that can go into the oven with the roast and have an alarm setting are less expensive and great insurance against overcooking.
How to know when the rib roast is done?
The roast is done when the internal temperature is at least 115ºF for very rare up to 125ºF for medium rare–the recommended serving temperature for roast beef. Bear in mind that the larger the roast, the more the temperature will climb during the critical rest stage–at least 10ºF. So, even if someone at your table prefers medium to medium well, the end cuts will reach that level of doneness–I promise.
[Worse comes to worse and even the end pieces are a little too pink for someone, pop those servings into the still-warm oven for a few minutes and they will be just right!]
Roasting on a bed of hay
This novel recipe for Grassfed Rib Roast on Hay and Herbs features one very special ingredient–hay. But isn’t that for horses, you may wonder?
According to Portland’s own Iron Chef, Vitaly Paley who inspired this recipe, hay is also perfect for making a bed for a rib roast. Hay imparts sweet, grassy notes while playfully referencing the animal’s winter feed. A cheffy idea, surely, but one that readily translates to the home in this recipe for a boneless rib roast on hay.
I stepped out into a frigid blue sky morning in search of good hay. Here in eastern Oregon, it’s hard to walk a block without passing livestock, so I called on my neighbors with two beautiful geldings whose breath puffed white clouds into the sunshine. They obliged me as readily as if I’d requested a cup of sugar. Though I had a little explaining to do.
Once the barn door was opened, the hay perfumed the air even in the cold. I pulled off an armful, and turned. The horses drew near and one nibbled from the ends, thinking I was stealing his dinner. Not for horses, this bundle of hay.
As I drove away my neighbor called out, “There’s no spray. It’s organic!” I inhaled the fresh aromas of a spring meadow blooming in my car. The Wallowas are renowned for the quality of its hay–a combination of cultivated grasses–though most of it is sprayed with pesticides and fungicides. I felt lucky for finding organic hay so close at hand.
Admittedly, the hay left a trail of litter from the car to the kitchen but the aromas of beef and grass cooking together later–so herbaceous and meaty–were memorable and worthwhile. The sylvan scents of hay infused into the meat and flavored the sauce with hints of the feed that cattle eat all winter long. Good stuff it is.
And even with a generous hand, I had far more hay than I needed for this one recipe. Good thing I have all the holidays ahead to roast good meat on hay again. It’s worth it.
Grassfed Rib Roast on Hay and Herbs
- 1 5-7 pound boneless rib roast aka, prime rib
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small bunch organic hay washed and dried
- 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
- 4 branches fresh rosemary
- 6 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 cup dry white wine or beef stock
- 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- Up to 2 days in advance, put the rib roast on a baking sheet, season it generously with the salt and pepper, and store it uncovered in the refrigerator.
- Preheat the oven to 475°F with the rack in the middle position. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan generously with the hay and arrange the onions, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves on it to make a bed.
- Position the roast on the bed with the fat cap side up. Roast the meat for 15 minutes. The fat cap on the meat will be walnut brown and sizzling.
- Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer registers 115°F, about 30 minutes more. Remove the roast if you like it very rare, or check the temperature every 10 minutes and remove it as soon as the center of the roast reaches 120°F for rare or 125°F for medium rare.
- Transfer the roast to a cutting board, tent it with aluminum foil, and let it rest for at least 20 minutes to reach the final serving temperature.
- To make the jus, compost or discard the bulk of the hay, onions and herbs, reserving any of the collected meat juices. Add the wine or stock to the roasting pan, stirring to pick up all the flavors, and then strain all the liquid into a small saucepan. When ready to serve, bring this liquid to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter cubes to enrich it and season with salt and pepper to taste.