Updated: Aug 25
I just spent 2+ days making 3 quarts of super-concentrated liquid gold, enough for half a year's worth of family prime rib dinners.
You can purchase sodium-laden instant "au jus" powder... or you can make the real thing.
September might be the new "late summer," and yet autumn is unmistakably nigh... mornings are deliciously cool, NFL teams are trimming their rosters for Opening Day, and the department stores are busy with back-to-school shoppers. When downright cold weather finally arrives it sharpens our appetites, and nothing counterbalances freezing temperatures and frosted window panes as deliciously as a fragrant roast in the oven...
...and whether for Christmas Dinner or just a good-sized gathering of family and/or friends, it might as well be prime rib.
In case your mouth hasn't watered in a while...
What self-respecting carnivore doesn't love prime rib? Last year I demystified it HERE, and I'm continually tweaking the techniques and ingredients. For instance, I recently tried air-drying the roast with a fan to form a better crust (success!) and I've been perfecting the sauce... or rather, I'm trying to duplicate the precious drippings that accumulate in the roasting pan, so utterly delicious and yet never, it seems, in sufficient quantity for the assembled guests.
Can one really make such a sauce without actually cooking a roast? Yes, kind of... if you don't mind spending some money and a few hours in the kitchen. Here's how I did it–
14 lbs. Beef Rib Bones (like THESE)
3-4 lbs. Oxtails
Carrots, Celery, Yellow Onions, & Garlic
1/2 Can Diced Tomatoes
2 750ml. Bottles Red Wine (French, Italian, or Spanish)
2 Gallons Spring Water
1 Puck (1.5 oz.) Gluten-Free Demi-Glace (Available in 6-packs)
I purchased the rib bones from US Wellness, an online supplier of grass-fed beef from Tasmania. Because I met their minimum order for free shipping, the ribs cost $120... something of a bargain, given the amount of meat on them. (The exact same meat as prime rib itself.) Similarly priced but available locally were the oxtails, which retail for about $8/pound. Dry European red wines work better than tooty-fruity Californian or Australian versions, hence the geographical recommendation. ($8-$10 is my personal comfort range for cooking wines.) I always have demi-glace on hand, as I buy it in quantity and use it fairly frequently. When it comes to the veggies, I strive to go organic (except for onions) for their superior and more concentrated flavors. And finally, why spring for spring water? Because the 2 gallons cooked down to 3 quarts... and that would be a significant concentration of chlorine, fluoride, and God knows what else if I had used municipal tap water.
First, brown (but DO NOT blacken) the rib bones. Browning gives not only the proper color but, more importantly, the rich umami flavors that form when meat slowly roasts. Thanks to our new gas convection oven, properly browning them went smoothly, if not especially quickly.
The first of four racks... proper browning required about half an hour at 425ºF in the
convection oven for each rack. I snuck an oxtail or two into each oven load.
While the ribs were browning I addressed other tasks. I brought the wine to a slow simmer, the better to eliminate as much alcohol as possible. (Although ethyl alcohol has a significantly lower boiling point than water, it doesn't automatically cook completely away. See Cooking with Wine & Booze.) Dissolving the demi-glace in the wine is a good idea. I also sliced the onions and then put them in my perfect little roasting pan with some fat drippings from the roasting bones.
Toss'em with a little beef fat and slowly roast them (stirring occasionally) until they significantly darken and shrink. Then add the other veggies and roast some more. Brown, but do not blacken.
When all the bones and veggies were roasted it was time to combine everything. Even though I was deploying my "go big or go home" 16-quart commercial stockpot from The Restaurant Depot for the occasion, I had only "guesstimated" that everything would fit.
Close, but it all fit. Gotta love the exaggerated perspective offered by phone photography. Note the rich burgundy-brown color; if you ever find a wool turtleneck in that hue, I'll take one in XL.
I left it to simmer overnight... covered, so as not to cook off water before the long, slow extraction of flavors was complete. A full day later I separated the rich liquid from the solids. (Serious restaurant pots have a spigot at the base to facilitate this step. I'm keeping my eye out for one.) Then I cranked up the heat and boiled it uncovered until it was reduced by half.
Separating and removing the fat was next.
Upon cooling, the fat rises to the top. Under normal refrigeration, the fat solidifies. In order to hasten this process, I transferred the reduced liquid to a smaller pot and suspended it by the handles in a larger pot of cold water. After a few changes of the water, it was cold enough to put in our fridge. Come the next morning the fat had indeed solidified. I removed it all, but some of the now gelled stock came with it. With so much time and money thus far invested, I re-melted the fat that had stock stuck to it, repeated the process, and thereby extracted another pint of valuable stock.
Then I packaged it as shown in the photo at the top, labeled and froze it, and cleaned the kitchen. Was it worth all this effort? Absolutely! This concoction– this faux jus– can become a gluten-free gravy (with potato flour roux) that transforms a humble dish of mashed potatoes into a deeply satisfying meal, and it can elevate a painstakingly prepared prime rib to an even higher level of wonderfulness. I like that I'm free to tinker with it every time I use some... maybe I'll add a little salt and pepper, maybe some coconut aminos that makes a great soy sauce substitute.
Whatever I do with it, however I deploy it, I'll do so comfortable in the knowledge that I won't need to make another batch like this until August of next year.
It might occur to some knowledgeable observers that this recipe closely parallels that for basic demi-glace. The most significant difference is that demi-glace is made from veal bones, which are notable for their glycerin content that translates to a thick and silky rich concoction. This "faux jus" instead calls for beef rib bones, which contain way less glycerin but way more beefy flavor. Keep in mind that we are replicating the luscious pan drippings incidentally produced while roasting prime rib, and we do call for a bit of demi-glace for texture.
This batch of sauce base surely seems really expensive; however, consider that this freezes well and can be used a little at a time.
Consider also that restaurants typically serve a mediocre prime rib with fake "au jus sauce" for prices beginning in the mid-thirties. This $170 batch of concentrated sauce base translates to 32-48 three-oz. servings depending on how you utilize it (mixed w/ basic stock and/or pan drippings, wine, etc.)
However you use this, it is the perfect enhancement for high-quality prime rib that restaurants would never serve.