Thanksgiving Dinner: Prime Rib & Yorkshire Pudding for Two

Behold, the meat.

The Yorkshire Pudding. This may be the prettiest thing I've made, even though it looks vaguely turkey-like.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of turkey.  The great thing about cooking your own Thanksgiving dinner is that you don’t have to make turkey if you don’t want to, especially if you are joined at the table by other people who don’t like turkey.

Fortunately for me, my father is one of those people.  And as I’ve also said before, my father is a fan of red meat.

The inspiration for this meal came from Alton Brown.  Last week, while I was running around the apartment cleaning and vacuuming, I had the TV on in the background. This isn’t unusual; when you live alone, as I do, the TV makes great company, or good background noise at the very least.  An old and very good episode of Good Eats was on—”Popover Some Time”.  After Alton presents the audience with the recipe and technique for the perfect popover and Dutch baby, he saves the best part for the last third of the episode: Yorkshire Pudding.

Yorkshire Pudding is wonderful and incredibly easy to make, but it’s not something you whip together on a whim, unless you keep good meat fat handy.  And not just any good meat fat.  The best Yorkshire Pudding is made from the drippings of rib roast of beef.  Alton prepared a beautiful standing bone-in 3-rib roast, just to get the drippings he needed for this pudding.

I could do that, I thought.  Hell, why not do it for Thanksgiving?

When I suggested this to my father, his eyes widened and his mouth broke into a wide grin. “Yes! Absolutely!” He said. “We’ll have to get the meat from Fairway.”

The happiest place on earth, if you're, um, me.

This is Fairway Market, located in Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s a pain in the ass to get to if you don’t have a car.  You could take the bus (I have) or walk (I’ve done that, too), but considering how many pounds of groceries you’ll be carrying when you leave, having a car to put the groceries in is ideal.  Luckily, my father has a car.

Fairway is one of my favorite places in Brooklyn, not just because it’s an amazing food store (the cheese counter alone, good lord), but because there is a wonderful cafe in the back of the store that overlooks the bay, with a pristine view of the Statue of Liberty, and the boats and ships that travel into and out of New York.  It’s the perfect place for an early morning weekend breakfast (since after 10am, the place becomes a zoo).  Fairway is one my father’s favorite places because they have a great meat counter, a great fish counter, and all the San Pellegrino soda he could ask for.

On Tuesday morning, we headed to Fairway in the rain to buy our roast.  I was armed and ready with questions for the butcher: What temperature do we cook it? How many minutes per pound? How long does it have to stay at room temperature before we cook it? And how long does it have to rest?

When we arrived at the meat counter, we were faced with an army of impatient people with full shopping carts, waiting to pick up their turkeys. No one had come to buy red meat.  I made my way up to the counter looking for prime rib.  I saw a tremendous piece, about 8 to 10 ribs worth, red and fatty and just gorgeous, under the glass.  $20.99 per pound.  Yikes.

Well, there’s just two of us, I thought. How bad can it be?

Two ribs serves four; we wanted enough meat for dinner plus leftovers for sandwiches (as the Prime Rib Sandwich from Eataly is our favorite sandwich—ever—and sure, we could duplicate that, sort of).  I asked the butcher to cut two ribs’ worth from the giant piece of beef, which he did graciously.  When he set the meat on the scale, my mouth went dry: 5.38 pounds. 112 beans.  Yeeeouch.

“It’s okay,” Dad said. “It’s Thanksgiving. It’s a special occasion.”

“I’m so sorry I had such an expensive idea. Really.  We can get another cut—”

“No.”

“Okay. I promise it’ll be delicious.” Oh god.

Later that day, through Wednesday and this morning, I spent a good deal of time reading up on how to cook prime rib.  It had to be delicious.  I couldn’t live with myself if it wasn’t.

My first stop was Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which has been my cooking bible since I purchased it three years ago.  I recommend it to anyone—every time I pick it up, I learn more, and I learn how much I don’t know, which just makes me more curious about cooking.  Bittman’s chapter on meat is very thorough, and totally un-intimidating.  He provides very thorough descriptions, instructions and illustrations.  If you have the book, revisit the meat chapter when you have a moment (it’s really enlightening), but in the meantime here’s the stuff you really need to know about cooking prime rib:

  • When cooking prime rib (bone in), one rib will feed two people. So, a three-rib roast will feed six (perhaps with leftovers).
  • You must have a thermometer on hand when cooking this meat.  It doesn’t have to be fancy—I got one at Target for $3, but really, there’s no way to know when it’d done unless you can check the internal temperature.
  • The roast should be left at room temperature for an hour to two hours before roasting.  Rub the meat with salt and pepper (that’s really all you need since the meat is that good), and bake in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Alternatively, you can build your own rack with celery stalks, which I do. It works for chicken, too.
  • Bake the roast at 450 degrees for the first 15 minutes. Then, it’s 350 degrees from then on out.  Cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes per pound total.  With a roast weighing in at nearly 5.5 pounds, Dad and I were looking at about an hour and a half, at a minimum.
  • Now, since the meat continues to cook after you take it out of the oven, it’s essential to check your temperature to make sure the meat will be done to your liking.  Dad and I like meat rare, so anywhere in the roast we poked with the thermometer had to show a temperature of 120 degrees at a minimum; otherwise, back to the oven it went. Ultimately, eighteen minutes per pound worked for us, and I had to watch the oven thermometer like a hawk to make sure the hot box temperature was where it needed to be. If you have a temperamental oven, I’m sure you can relate.

Right after we got the meat out of the oven, we transferred it to a serving plate to rest.

I covered it with aluminum foil to keep it warm, and sent my father back to watching football.  One piece of kitchen advice I always follow is that you have to let meat rest.  Cut it too soon, and all the juice runs out, and with that all the moisture and much of the flavor.

And now for the Yorkshire Pudding…

While the meat rested, we cranked the oven up to 400, and carefully poured the meat fat in the roasting pan out to measure it.  I put two tablespoons of the fat back in the roasting pan, and put it back in the oven.

I took another 2 tablespoons of the fat and put them in a blender with 2 cups of milk (at room temperature), 4 large eggs (also room temperature), and 2 cups of flour.  I blended for 30 seconds, then paused to scrape the sides of the blender, then another 30 seconds, then another round of scraping, and then 15 seconds of blending.

Dad got the hot pan out of the oven, and I poured the batter in, on top of the other fat.  Sizzle!  Back into the oven the pan went.  Over the course of 30 minutes, it sizzled and bubbled and puffed and turned golden and grew and puffed some more, and when we took it out, we had this:

Looking at the pudding, and then turning to look at the meat behind me, I felt very, very proud.  Everything looked beautiful.  But I hadn’t succeeded until we sliced the meat and saw if it was as pink as we hoped for.

Success.

I exhaled.  I did it.  I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner before, but I’ve never roasted any meat other than chicken or turkey (and do they even count? They’re birds.)  To accompany these two beautiful dishes, we also had

Stuffing, my mother's recipe (with pork sausage)

And the healthiest thing on the table, other than water…

Beef is great, but it's better with mushrooms

I don’t have the words to tell you how good everything tasted, or how happy I felt when I saw my father’s face after he took his first bite of meat, and then told me I had a gift. I am thankful for food, and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to cook special meals, but more than anything I am grateful that I have wonderful people that I can cook for, and share those special meals.  Today, the magic is in the sharing.

I hope you all had a marvelous Thanksgiving.

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