From Tom's Table: Going for the gold

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Tom Hashagen discusses classic and new ways to roast beef for the holidays.

Before beef became a luxury item, we would have it in our house maybe once a week. If we manage once a week nowadays, it’s usually hamburger.

Even skirt steak, which used to be almost a throw-away meat before people learned how easy it is to cook and how delicious it is, is now regularly $11 to $12 per pound. Oh, and that “flat iron” steak you see on a lot of “casual” or “fast-casual” menus that tastes as good as sirloin? It’s an unusually tender cut from deep inside the chuck or shoulder of the cow.

There are several cuts of beef, like brisket, chuck roasts and short ribs, that are less expensive and really tasty, but require low and slow cooking. But once a year, usually at Christmas, we go for the gold and do prime rib.

“Prime” is really a misnomer, since most of what is regularly purchased at your favorite butcher is “choice” grade, but a rib roast is hard to beat for tenderness and flavor. If you’re going to roast it in the oven, a four-rib standing roast will generously feed eight to 10 people. One of my favorite recipes is Steve Raichlen’s Hickory Smoked Prime Rib, done outside on the charcoal grill. The roast is rubbed with several salts, pepper and rosemary, then studded with garlic and slow roasted over indirect heat and chunks of smoky hickory.

You can also roast the beef in a standard oven, but start the beef at 425 degrees for the first half hour before reducing the heat to 350 for the balance of the cooking time. This will give the meat a crispy crust on the outside.

No matter how you do it, make sure you get a good amount of beef drippings so you can make what most of my family winds up fighting over – the Yorkshire pudding. This simple mixture of flour, salt, milk and eggs, baked in a roasting pan of smoking beef drippings, turns into one of the most addicting sides you’ll ever have. It works with pan gravy, “au jus” or just plain. You can’t stop eating it.

This particular recipe comes from the Yankee Magazine Cookbook, given to me by my aunt from Plymouth, Massachusetts probably 40 years ago. I love this book, and happily, many of the recipes from it can be found online.

Here then are the recipes for the beef and the pudding. The doneness temperatures for the beef are printed as originally written. Personally, I roast the beef to between 125 and 130 degrees. It will jump another 5 degrees as the roast rests and the pudding bakes, and no one has ever complained!

Steve Raichlen’s Hickory Smoked Prime Rib
You’ll need:
3 cups wood chips (optional, preferably hickory or oak), soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover, then drained; roast rack (optional)
For the beef:
1 prime rib roast (4 ribs; 9 to 11 pounds)
3 large cloves garlic, each clove cut lengthwise into 6 or 8 slivers
For the rub:
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 teaspoons onion salt
2 teaspoons hickory-smoked salt
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon black pepper

Have your butcher French the prime ribs. Using the tip of a knife, make slits in the prime rib and insert the slivers of garlic into these slits.

Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl and stir to mix. Sprinkle the rub over the roast on all sides, patting it onto the meat with your fingertips.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips, if desired, in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.
When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss half of the wood chips, if desired, on the coals. Place the roast on a rack, if using, fat-side up, in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat. If not using a rack, place the roast, fat-side up, directly in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat. Cover the grill.

Grill the roast until done to taste: 2 hours for rare (about 125°F on an instant-read meat thermometer), 2 to 2 1/2 hours for medium-rare (about 145°F), or 2 1/2 to 3 hours for medium (about 160°F); remember, the roast will continue cooking even after it comes off the grill. If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side every hour, and toss the remaining wood chips, if desired, on the coals after the first hour of grilling.

Transfer the roast to a platter or carving board and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let the roast rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving. To carve, run a sharp, slender carving knife between the ribs and the meat to release the meat from the bones. Thinly slice the roast, then cut the ribs apart and serve them on the side. Alternatively, leave the ribs attached and carve the roast with them (the slices will be much thicker in this case).

Serve horseradish sauce on the side.

Yorkshire Pudding
6 servings
(Note: I always make the batter for this at least an hour before I use it, letting it stand at room temperature and re-mixing briefly before it goes into the hot pan.)
1/4 cup hot beef drippings
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cup sifted flour
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt

When roast is done, remove from heat and keep warm. Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Pour 1/4 cup hot drippings from roast pan into an 8 x 8 x 2-inch or 10 x 6 x 2-inch baking dish. Place in oven to heat. Pan and drippings should be piping hot before pouring in batter. Sift flour, then measure. Resift with salt into bowl. Beat eggs until foamy. Add milk. Gradually stir into dry ingredients. Then beat with electric beater for 2 minutes. Pour into hot baking dish and bake in very hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut in slices and serve at once.

Note: For individual puddings, pour batter into 12 piping hot muffin tins, each containing 1 teaspoon hot drippings. Bake for 20 minutes in very hot oven.