The cut: Rib
The dish: French rib roastA cow’s middle is the part that does the least physical work. It follows, then, that meat from this area, which divides neatly into ‘rib’ and ‘loin’, is very tender. Rib is where classic roast beef comes from. A whole rib roast has up to eight ribs but these are more often divided into two-, three- or four-rib roasts. (Smaller roasts are better from the loin end, where the meat is a single muscle, than from the shoulder end.)We have some Francophile friends coming over for dinner (they have a flat in Paris and everything), so I root through the ‘Del-Boy’ section of our freezer – quite a big section – and find a three-rib côte de boeuf or French rib roast. How does a French rib roast differ from an English one? Only in appearance: the French habit is to leave the trimmed bones exposed. Remove them and cut the meat up and you’d be left with thick, juicy entrecôte (literally ‘between the ribs’) steaks. Surveying the thawed joint, pure, cold shame courses through me as I remember my pathetic attempts to tie it up with butcher’s string using a special butcher’s slip-knot. Borut, Ginger Pig’s master butcher, had shown me repeatedly how to tie it, but each time he finished his demonstration the knowledge trickled out of my ears. ‘Borut!’ I would call, weakly. ‘Borut!’ And he would show me again, and I would forget again, until he had no choice but to do it for me and I had no choice but to stand in a corner worrying about early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Ginger Pig’s advice is always to cook good meat simply. Let the flavour flood out, as the old Tetley tea ad used to say. I smother the joint in olive oil, pepper and salt. Mostly pepper. Then I shove it in the oven. Simple as that.
What to serve with it? It has to be dauphinoise potatoes. There’s a great recipe in ‘The French Kitchen: A Cookbook’ by Joanne Harris (of ‘Chocolat’ fame) and Fran Warde, a book which looks unbearably naff but is actually brilliant. Warning: you need 100g of butter and almost a pint of cream for this version of the bistro staple. Don’t serve it to elderly relatives unless you’re practised in CPR.
Luckily, the Francophiles turn up with a bottle of Madiran. Madiran is a rich, concentrated red wine from south-west France which contains high levels of tannins called procyanidins. Not only is it delicious, but one study suggested it might be good for your blood vessels. I take this to mean we can eat all the roast beef and dauphinoise potatoes we like without dropping dead from heart disease.
After much agonising, I decide to carve the joint in slices rather than steaky lumps, as I have a feeling you would if you ordered côte de boeuf in a restaurant. The Francophiles are very polite about the fact that the joint is on the medium side of medium-rare , a culinary solecism punishable in France by public flogging. But we all agree that it tastes sensational. John O’Connell
French rib roastSmother a three-rib côte de boeuf in olive oil, salt and pepper. Mostly pepper. Roast for 15 minutes at 220°C, then for another hour or so at 180°C. If you’re concerned about it not being cooked through, use a meat thermometer. We bought our longhorn, Del Boy, at Ginger Pig. For further information about Borut’s butchery classes, see www.thegingerpig.co.uk.