Right, now for the main course of our Christmas feast. I try to vary the hero of our main course each year but do stick to just one protein - unlike many who prefer to have a variety of protein as part of their main fare.
This year I thought we would stick to our kind-of-English theme as we have with the sticky figgy pudding and have an OP rib of beef for the main course. The oven-prepared rib is the same cut we know as a rack of lamb, but obviously from the beef. As with the lamb the rib runs from the forequarter to the loin of the carcass with 13 ribs a side. When lamb racks are prepared from the loin end with the forequarter removed at the fifth rib they will generally have eight ribs on them.
On beef this can vary depending on how the animal has been broken down but as a general rule the average beef rack - also known as an OP rib, OP rack, standing rib roast, bone-in scotch fillet or wing rib, is likely to have six ribs but is also quite acceptable with eight.
The beauty of this is you can have a chat to your butcher and get him to cut yours to size to suit the number of people you are hosting on Christmas Day.
As there will be 16 of us without any additional family or friends it will be a full eight rib that I will need to prepare and cook on the day.
I am going to stick to tradition and serve it alongside new season's carrots, new potatoes (looking good in the garden so should be straight from there), lightly sauteed fresh green peas, some Yorkshire pudding and a natural pan gravy.
The big thing to ensure when you talk to your butcher about your beef for this Christmas is to insist that it comes from a Quality Mark carcass. This will guarantee you the end result will be tasty as well as tender and of course the only way we can be absolutely sure the beef is going to be good is by that quality mark.
To give you an idea of weight a three-boned OP rib will weigh somewhere around 2-2.25kg. To get the best results follow these few easy steps; by doing so you will have your Quality Mark OP rib of beef roasted to absolute perfection.
Ensure you have the heated oven at the correct temperature throughout the cooking process. For an OP rack of beef, allow 20-25 minutes per 500 grams at 180 degrees Celsius for rare, 25-30 minutes for medium and 30-35 minutes for well done. Always weigh the meat to estimate the length of cooking time. For even more accuracy feel free to use a meat thermometer but please still calculate the timing first and insert the thermometer into the meatiest part of the meat to check. Remember, each time you insert the meat thermometer you are allowing the juices to escape.
Wherever possible ensure your meat is raised above the juices during the roasting process. If you don't have a roasting rack simply place root vegetables such as carrots, celery, parsnips, swede etc as a bed then place the meat to be roasted on top of that. This will prevent the meat from stewing in its juices.
Remember to allow the roast to rest before you carve. It is really important to let the juices settle into the meat during the resting process, otherwise they will simply escape as you carve into the meat. In the case of roast beef, for a three-rib or three-boned roast 20-25 minutes would be perfect.
Remember whenever carving, especially beef, slice across the grain. This shortens the length of the meat fibre making the slices very tender to eat.
To make your meat even more tasty, mix a tablespoon of mustard powder with a tablespoon of plain flour and dust this over the surface of the fat then top that with several twists of freshly ground black pepper. This will help the fat to become very crusty (for those who like those crispies) and really improve the flavour of the meat once it has been roasted. Also add a peeled, roughly chopped onion to the pan at the start of the roasting process. This will caramelise during the cooking period and add richness and colour to the finished gravy. As with any classic roast beef, the finishing touch is always the gravy and to get that you need to use all the escaped juices from the meat during cooking.
To make a simple gravy remove the meat from the roasting dish allowing it to rest and remove the vegetables and discard them. They have already done their job. Tilt the roasting dish so you can see how much of the juice has remained in the pan.
You will need around two tablespoons for sufficient gravy for a three-boned rib. Put aside any additional to be used at a later date. Place the roasting dish over a medium heat and sprinkle with about 2 Tbsp of flour and mix these with the spoon into those lovely fatty juices.
Now change to a wire whisk and continue to blend in the flour using a circular motion until you have a nice smooth paste.
Stir in some vegetable water from the cooking of the carrots, potatoes or other vegetables to go with your roast beef, making sure you use the whisk to scrape the base of the roasting dish ensuring you have all the residue from the roast mixed into your gravy.
Keep whisking and adding water until you have the gravy almost at the consistency you want for service then add quarter of a cup of Madeira or red wine.
Allow the gravy to continue bubbling for 2-3 minutes or until the flour has completely cooked through and serve with your gorgeous roast beef, wonderful fresh vegetables and the Yorkshire pudding.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
- The Southland Times