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Standing Rib Roast: Jacques Pepin destroys the NY Times.

Earlier this year Amanda Hesser had a compelling article in the Times about standing rib roast; compelling in the sense that, after I read it, I felt compelled to try the recipe that Hesser was promoting. It was a resurrected technique from a 1960s article by Craig Claiborne (borrowed, in turn, from former Gourmet editor Ann Seranne) that called for roasting the meat for a short time at a very high temperature (500 degrees), then turning off the heat and letting it coast in to perfect doneness as the oven cooled.

Hesser's write-up offered the recipe as a lost and rediscovered treasure, and I got all squirmy and hungry looking at the crisp-fatted, dark brown roast pictured in the article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/mag...

So I tried it, and when it produced a gray, dry, grimly overcooked roast I tried it again. I am not a pro by any stretch, but I think I'm a better-than-competent cook, and there aren't many variables in Hesser/Claiborne/Seranne's recipe to screw up. Still, I figured I must have done something wrong on the first attempt and so I was hyper-vigilant the second time around. The second roast was grayer, dryer and tougher than the first. Worse, the recipe instructs you to "allow the roast to remain in the oven until oven is lukewarm," so once you added time to bring it to the table, gather guests, carve and serve, I had a tough, gray, dry, and cold roast, which translated to a lot of depressing leftovers.

I still think I must have done something wrong, since this recipe has to have been tested many times, successfully, on the way to being printed and reprinted. But whatever I did must be a kind of mistake that plenty of folks could make.

Anyway, this weekend my family got together to celebrate my sister's birthday and she requested a standing rib roast. This was now a more-or-less dreadful assignment, but I decided to try out a method, this one from Jacques Pepin Celebrates. Our 7ish-pound, three-rib roast got 30 minutes at 425 and an hour at 400, after which I dropped the oven to 160 and let the meat rest inside, uncovered, for an hour.

God, it was perfect. Lovely and brown outside, rose-red all the way through. And the long spell resting in the warm oven meant that the roast was warm throughout our meal.

So I strongly recommend the Pepin recipe to anyone who's interested (it's available via Good Morning America here:

)

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Holidays/re...

And, since I still think I must've blown it, I'm very interested to hear from anyone who made the Times' recipe work.

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  1. This is an excellent. Great report and insight.
    I'm a bit intimidated by standing roasts and will think of Pepin's method and refer back to it. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. The Times article does say at the end that you have to pull the roast when your meat thermometer reads 130, although the recipe doesn't specify that. Did you use a thermometer? If not, I would guess that the issue is the insulation in 2011 ovens - it's probably a lot better than the insulation in 1966 ovens, which means a hotter temp for a longer time, which means overcooked meat if you leave it until your modern oven cools down.

      1. The first method should work just fine if you use a thermometer.

        1. The results from the Times recipe are gonna depend greatly upon some factors that aren't listed in the recipe itself - size of oven, make of oven, how long you had the oven preheated before adding the roast, even the type of pan you use. Something as simple as having a pizza stone in your oven could result in a very overcooked roast.

          If anyone wants to pull off the Times recipe and make sure that it works, I would recommend following the recipe up to the point at which the oven is turned off. Instead of turning the oven off, turn it down to 140 or the lowest setting your oven will reach if it doesn't go down that low. Start checking the internal temp with an instant read thermometer after about 30 minutes (don't sweat the 'never open the oven door' warning in the recipe). Remove the meat to rest when the thermometer reads about 120 F, depending on taste. Rest it for another 20-30 minutes, cut, and serve.

          1. This would have amused my late mother no end. She used an earlier version of the Times' offering when living in Connecticut and trying to prepare dinner for my father, returning from Manhattan. In those post-war, pre-bankruptcy days, the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad took the dull certainty out of life with an imaginative variation of departure and arrival times. Their locomotives were widely known as the inspiration for the Little Engine That Could except that theirs couldn't. As a result, we never knew when my father would get home.

            Reading the Greenwich Junior League cookbook "The Busy Gourmet", she found a similar recipe which she later remembered as "450 degrees for 45 minutes, 300 degrees for thirty minutes". This is not exactly the way it was written but the idea was that you put it in the hot oven, turn the oven off, remove after 45 mins (maybe an hour) then you had the oven available for other things. Then, even if he was late, she still had the half-hour needed to bring the roast up to temperature whill the grown ups had martinis in the living room.

            The first time she did it she called Gristede's and had them send a three rib roast. It must have cost $12 in those days. When my father cut into it (his train had been 45 minutes late) the roast was perfect. She swore that the recipe saved her marriage.

            She'd have chided Claiborne for not being true to his roots. She'd known him in the 1920's and 1930's and had little use for him but she'd have chided him as she did herself when she found out, from her Mississippi-based mother, that the same trick had been around forever in the deep south becuase you did not want to heat the kitchen too much. (She paid scant attention to cooking until she got married..and then she became a very good cook becuase, as she said "I can read.")

            3 Replies
            1. re: hazelhurst

              That's a great story. Thanks for sharing.

              Edited to add: The New Haven Line's timetables (GCT to Stamford) are more like guidelines and never to be taken literally. Some things never change.

              1. re: hazelhurst

                Haha. This is great. I'm curious how your mother knew Claiborne and what she disliked about him. He's a bit before my time but I imagine that the way my friends and relatives invoke the Wisdom of Bittman gives an echo of the Craig Claiborne era.

                The other comments are also interesting and very welcome. I appreciate cowboyardee's and biondanonima's ideas about the how the heat-retaining quirks of a given oven could mess with the efficacy of the cool-down cooking method.

                It's true that if you had (especially) one of those thermometers where the probe sits in the meat and attaches by cord to an external readout, it would take a lot of the guesswork out of cooking a roast. But then, the whole point of the Seranne/Claiborne method was supposed to be that if you simply used the per-pound chart printed with the article you could count on a perfectly cooked roast without doing a lot of opening and closing and poking and checking. If you have to jigger and rejigger the technique to account for changes in oven-manufacturers' insulation standards, the presence of a pizza stone, etc., then it's not much of a worry saver.

                I was impressed, in contrast, by how Pepin's method seemed to immune to those sorts of little variations. His actual recipe was for a six-lb. roast (after trimming) while mine was closer to eight. But he said that after the hour at 400, the internal temperature would be 85-90 - and it was. And the best thing was how uniformly rare-side-of-medium-rare the meat was after it rested at 160. I'll have to try it a few more times to confirm, but I'm hopeful that I now have a genuine surefire recipe.

                One addendum: When recipes call for a major downward change in temperature (as, in this one, from 400 to 160) I'm never sure whether the writer is taking into account the time it takes for the oven to lose heat. In this case, when the roast had finished cooking at 400 degrees, I opened the oven door and left it open a good long time before setting the temp to 160 and closing it again.

                1. re: GDSwamp

                  She had kinfolk in and around Sunflower where Claiborne was from. they were the same age and all the kids played together. She'd see him occasionally in New York in later years and they were cordial but she just thought he was "a mess" as she put it. I think she saw him as a poseur.

                  As to the roast, I don't do them her way. I am of the "sear and turn down" method. Not that this is better than any other...but I have never had a failure with it, always on the rare side of medium rare. I liike it because it gets the house smelling great in nothing flat.