Sometimes it takes a great chef to come up with the simplest and most elegant solutions. Like blowtorching a prime rib before slow-roasting it at low heat for several hours. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit.
As you all know, my voraciously literary wife S and I are avid cookbook collectors. For the both of us, there’s perhaps nothing better than spending an afternoon browsing the shelves at one of our favourite bookstores, especially if that store specializes in cookbooks. On a recent visit to 25 degree Celsius, Singapore’s only cookbook specialist, S and I went a tad nuts, picking up several fantastic hardbacks, including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.
We love Ad Hoc at Home and can only hope to one day make the trip back to Napa Valley in order to taste some of the dishes featured in this book first hand. In the meantime, though, we’re happily cooking our way through this magnificent book. One of the really great things about all of Keller’s books is that the recipes — at least all the ones we’ve tried — all work. Now, some of you might be saying to yourself, “Well, duh, it’s a cookbook. Of course the recipes work.” But the sad reality is that far too many cookbooks contain inaccurate recipes that just leave home users frustrated and annoyed. Keller’s books, on the other hand, are fabulous in that the recipes have been tried and tested and, with perhaps the exception of Under Pressure, are all achievable by any home chef that follows the instructions properly.
There are a lot of marvelous recipes in Ad Hoc at Home. Keller’s buttermilk fried chicken is an instant classic and the kind of dish you’ll be cooking for decades. Another is his prime rib roast. When I first saw this recipe, I flipped out. Then I flagged the page (S is kind of fanatical about us using small post-its to flag recipes we intend to try out) and waited for an opportunity to make this gorgeous and fun-looking dish.
In order to make a beautifully tender and delicious prime rib roast, Keller suggests first blowtorching the meat, sealing the juices in, browning the surface and especially any exposed areas of fat. He then slow-roasts the meat at a low temperature, ensuring that the beef cooks evenly and stays moist and tender. The whole process, when you think about it makes perfect sense. Torching the meat kickstarts the cooking process in just the right way. And it is damn fun to grab a torch and go pyro on a big hunk of steak.
Keller recommends purchasing a two rib cut, which we did, picking up a beautiful, aged Angus prime rib from our favourite local butcher, Huber’s. I decided to salt and pepper the meat liberally a day before cooking it. Salting it this way means that the salt will be able to penetrate throughout the meat, as opposed to just adding flavour to the surface of the roast. After rubbing it with a healthy amount of salt and pepper, I wrapped the beef up in plastic wrap and popped it in my walk-in chiller overnight. Before cooking it the next day, I made sure to take the beef out and let it return to room temperature.
I followed Keller’s instructions, preheating my oven to 140 degrees Celsius, and placing the prime rib on a roasting rack set on a roasting pan. Then the fun part. I broke out my handy blowtorch and went to town on my meat. One word of caution. Fat is pretty flammable and if you get a tad too enthusiastic (which I did), don’t be surprised if the beef bursts out into flame in certain spots. Be sure to brown the meat all over.
Then pop the beef into the oven for around two hours or (if you have an oven probe for the meat) until the beef’s internal temperature reaches 51 degrees Celsius. Take the roast out and let it rest in a warm spot for around 30 minutes before carving and serving. To serve, cut the ribs away from the rest of the meat, then separate the two ribs. Then slice the meat in half lengthwise. Cut each half portion into small slices and serve with whatever sauces catch your fancy.