Prime Rib Roast for a Small Crowd

Makes About 6 servings
Time: About 1 1/2 hours, largely unattended

This is a simple roasting technique: high heat to sear the meat, lower heat to cook it through. If you want a really crisp exterior, turn the heat back to 450°F for a few minutes right at the end of cooking; this won't affect the internal temperature too much. Large roasts like this will cook more quickly if they are at room temperature before roasting.

1 (3-rib) roast, about 5 pounds, trimmed of excess but not all fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 or 2 cloves garlic (optional)
1 cup red wine, stock, store-bought broth, or water

1.  Bring the meat to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking, preferably two. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2.  Place the meat, bone side down, in a large roasting pan. Season it with salt and pepper. If you like garlic, peel the cloves and cut them into tiny slivers; use a boning or paring knife to poke small holes in the meat and insert the garlic into them.

3.  Place the roast in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, undisturbed. Turn the heat down to 350°F and continue to roast for about 1 hour; check in several places with a meat thermometer. When no spot checks in at under 125°F (120°F if you like your meat really rare and your guests are of the same mentality), the meat is rare; cook another 5 or 10 minutes if you like it better done, then check again, but in no case let the temperature of the meat go above 155°F.

4.  Remove the meat from the oven (cover the meat with foil to keep it warm). Pour off all but a few tablespoons of the fat and place the roasting pan over a burner set to high. Add the liquid and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, until it is reduced by half. Slice the roast and serve, splashing a little of the sauce on the meat platter and passing the rest at the table.

Shopping Tips: If you want the best roast, make a special request for the small end (the 12th through the 7th ribs) and ask the butcher - even a supermarket butcher can do this - to cut it to order for you, removing the short ribs; you want what's called a "short" roast.

If you are serving 4 to 6 people, buy 3 or 4 ribs (higher numbers are better, so look for ribs 12 through 10, or 9); if you're serving more, add another rib for every 2 people, unless you want to serve gargantuan portions. I usually buy a 3-rib roast for up to 6 people and have leftovers, but I believe in serving lots of side dishes when I make a roast so no one is tempted to eat a pound of meat.

Cooking Tips: For rare meat, figure about 15 to 20 minutes per pound roasting for any prime rib roast, regardless of the size, but see the recipe for details. All beef is rare at 125°F (120°F for really rare); there are noticeable differences in meat color for each 5°F difference in temperature. I'd never cook anything beyond 155°F, although some cooks suggest cooking roast beef to 170°F for well done. Large roasts will rise at least 5°F in temperature between the time you remove them from the oven and the time you carve them.

Cutting into a piece of meat to check its doneness is far from a sin; it's one of those things that everyone does but no one talks about. So if you're at all in doubt, cut into the middle or take a slice from the end. Your presentation will not be as beautiful but if the meat is perfectly cooked no one will care.

Prime Rib for a Big Crowd
With bigger roasts, 5 ribs or more, make sure to allow plenty of time to let the meat reach room temperature. In Step 2, use more garlic if you like. In Step 3, increase initial browning time to 20 minutes. After that, cooking instructions remain the same, and cooking time will be only marginally longer, but be sure to use an instant-read thermometer in several different places to check the meat. Increase the liquid in Step 4 to at least 2 cups.