WALLA WALLA TABLE - A primer on 'prime rib': It may not be as primo as you think

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With a June report in which the FDA acknowledged that broiler chickens sold in stores for human consumption contained arsenic, a known a known cancer causing substance that was in a food additive poultry farmers had used since the 1940s, you have to ask yourself what IS safe anymore to eat?

The unfortunate answer is, not much. If you live elsewhere in the U.S. or the world, it might be even bleaker.

However, we have a few great resources in the Walla Walla Valley that you should be taking full advantage of. While home-grown chickens are not plentiful, they are out there. Local community-supported agriculture groups might even be able to get you one in your weekly box, or be able to direct you to someone who has them.

We have said it here before and we'll say it again: There really is something fantastic about knowing exactly where your food comes from. The Valley has an abundance of good beef, and beef is what's for dinner at my house most Christmas meals.

However, what often is referred to as "Prime Rib" is not actually that. Instead, it's a standing rib roast, and more often than not it's graded as choice or select. Prime refers to the grading by the USDA and has to do with the amount of marbling on and in the meat. While most restaurants will advertise "Prime Rib" you can only hope that it is at least choice. But too often, if you are getting a really low price (Senior special only $8.99!!) it is probably not even graded or not of a grade that you would want to know about. (We call this a "circus grade," because its so cheap).

At a reputable restaurant you can find great rib roasts from select, choice, and possibly even actual USDA prime beef, but it always comes with a price tag to match the quality.

Myself, I prefer grass-fed beef - among local sources for high quality grass-fed beef are Blue Valley Butcher and Lostine Cattle Company.

Yes, I know that there are some of you that just cannot fathom the idea of not eating something fed on corn, but really a cow's stomach is not designed to handle grain, they are herbivores (grass eaters) and really should be eating grass. Better for them, and better for us. If your cattle are grass fed, the chances of e-coli tainting your meat is zero, unless you drop it in a toilet.

The best thing about grass-fed beef, though, is the flavor. This is what beef should taste like. To some it may seem "gamey," but only because they've been hoodwinked for too long.

Trust me on the grass fed thing. Try it for your Christmas dinner and you'll see. And the fat makes superior gravy, too.

Happy Christmas.

Damon Burke co-owns the Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery in Walla Walla. He can be reached at wallawallatable@gmail.com. He also writes online at thegrocersbag.blogspot.com.

Perfect standing rib roast

  • 1 beef rib roast
  • Salt and pepper, ground fresh just before it is needed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • (For gravy: flour, beef stock, ground sage, red wine, salt and pepper)

Heat oven to 200 degrees (yes, really, that is all the heat you need). Pat meat dry with paper towels and place on sheet pan. Rub liberally (leave the politics out, it's the holidays after all) with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper generously all over every surface. Place meat, bone side down on rack and into a heavy duty roasting pan. Insert an electronic probe thermometer into the thickest part of the roast, being sure to not hit the bones.

Once oven is hot, put the roast in and plug in probe thermometer to base, which should be set to 118 degrees. Once the internal temperature reaches 118 - this should take two to three hours or so - remove roast and jack up oven temperature to 500 degrees (yes, really, be prepared to have someone on smoke alarm fanning duty). Once oven is at 500, insert your roast and let 'er rip till the internal temperature is 130 degrees. If you need to, cover your roast with foil, but the idea is to develop the crust. At 130 degrees, remove the roast from the oven, then from the pan, then from the rack and cover tightly with foil.

In the roasting pan is all that lovely juice. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer and into a wide skillet. Deglaze your roasting pan with red wine, nothing too harsh or tannic. Add about 2 tablespoons or so of flour the juices. Whisk until flour and fat are smooth. Set this over a medium-low flame and heat until the roux turns golden brown. Add stock and whisk until smooth, let this come to a low boil and whisk. Taste and adjust seasoning with sage, salt and pepper. Add deglaze from roasting pan and taste. Adjust seasoning as you see fit. (I like a little garlic powder in mine. Fresh garlic is too bitter for the gravy.)

Once your roast has rested, carve. Slices should be AT LEAST three-quarters of an inch thick - any less and it is just another roast.

Au jus sauce

You can use the roast gravy for the mashed potatoes. But if you are really hurting for some hot meat-on-meat action you can use the pan drippings and fat to make a jus. Here's how:

Skim off 75 percent of the fat from your roasting pan, or use a fat separator and adding the juices back or keeping them in the roasting pan. Set this over a medium flame or transfer it all into a wide saucepan set over a medium flame. Add about a cup of wine to deglaze, making sure to get all the scrappy bits from the bottom up. Add garlic powder and ground sage, about a half teaspoon of each. Taste, and if there is already enough salt, DO NOT add more - I cannot stress this enough. Add ground pepper and taste again. Add beef stock and reduce mixture by one-third. Retaste. If it still needs something, add one-eighth to one-quarter cup of Worchestershire sauce. Return to a simmer. Once the flavor is where you want it, add one-quarter to one-half stick of sweet cream UNSALTED butter and remove from heat. Whisk in the butter. Serve the sauce with roast.

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