That craving for a hunk of beef may hit those who enjoy meat on occasion with such urgency that visions of cave dwellers squatting in front of a fire roasting flesh on a stick dominates their minds.
Fast-forward a few thousand years: The fire pit has been replaced by a modern appliance, and the need for hunting wild animals has been reduced to a trip to the grocery store or butcher. A succulent six-bone prime rib in the meat case screams, "Take me home with you!" but dinner for one is on the agenda. What to do, what to do ...
Choose the Beef
The labeling of beef can be confusing, especially since labeling legislation is constantly changing. But knowing how to read the label helps the health-conscious consumer determine which package of beef to buy.
Organic: Organic beef is inspected and certified by the government to be raised on a diet of organic grains and is free of antibiotics and hormones. The cattle must also have access to grass for a minimum of 120 days per year.
Grass Fed: While these cattle are raised on grass, most are fed grains in the final stages of their lives to fatten them up. Some producers want to extend the label of "grass" to corn stalks, which weakens the definition of grass fed.
One Hundred Percent Grass Fed: This means the cattle were raised on grass or grass-based feed from start to finish. One hundred percent grass-fed beef is healthier for the consumer as it has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of E. coli and other bacteria, and requires less treatment of the cattle with antibiotics.
Cut It to Size
The prime rib is so named because it comes from the "prime" section of the beef in the center of the back. Its name has nothing to do with the quality of the meat, which is on the high end of the price spectrum. The cut normally comes as a roast, with anywhere between four and seven ribs attached.
Since it comes from the back, an area where the muscle gets little exercise, the prime rib is extremely tender. It also contains fat, which lubricates the muscle and also gives flavor to the meat. Once cooked, the fat may be trimmed away by the diner, but doing so before cooking takes away the essence of the cut. An attractive rib roast, especially one that's priced as a special, may be trimmed into individual bone-in steaks, with 1 1/2 to 2 inches yielding a steak that won't dry out as it's cooked. A good butcher will "French" the bones by cutting them to size for the steaks and scraping them clean of any meat.
Salt Before Sizzling
A prime rib steak needs preparation, just as a roast does. Air-dry the steak on a wooden cutting board. Then sprinkle kosher salt on both sides. Let the salt penetrate for about 40 minutes before the steak meets the stove or grill. The salting penetrates the muscle fiber, loosens it and adds flavor to the juices. Don't add garlic or pepper at this point as both will burn during cooking; add them at the end, prior to removing the steak from the pan.
Two Methods: Take Your Pick
Whether to sear before the oven or after the oven is a question that can only be answered by the person preparing the steak.
Advance Searing: When the steak is ready for cooking, heat a lightly oiled skillet until the oil appears wavy. This is your indication that it's hot enough. Place the steak in the skillet and sear it for about four minutes. Don't try to move the steak during this time, or it'll stick to the bottom of the skillet and the meat will tear. Wait until the pan releases the steak and a bottom crust has formed. Turn the steak over so the crust side is up, place the skillet in a 450 F oven and let it sizzle until the interior temperature reaches 140 F for a medium steak. When done, let the steak rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing
Reverse Searing: A method known as reverse searing is taking the meat world by storm and produces extremely tender results. The steps are similar to advance searing, using the same utensils and tools, but are approached differently.
Heat the oven to 275 F. Line a baking tray with foil and place a rack in the center. Place the steak on the rack and put it in the oven. When the interior temperature of the steak reaches 125 F, remove it and wrap it in the foil. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, lightly oil a skillet and heat it until the oil shimmers. Sear the steak for one minute on each side before placing it back on the cutting board. Let the tender, juicy prime rib steak rest for 10 minutes before slicing into it.
Recalling Those Cave Dwellers
A meltingly delicious, tender slice of prime rib steak, especially one that's 100 percent grass fed, takes you back to a simpler time when food was basic, clean and natural, like what the cave dwellers ate. Keep the dinner simple and nutritious by serving sauteed mushrooms and onions and a heaping portion of spinach alongside the steak.