Roland Nadeau drew a long knife across the slab of meat, carving with the care of a surgeon with a confident hand. Before my eyes, an inch-thick cut of prime rib unfolded itself into view, brown around the edges, beautiful pink in the center.

The steak was eased onto a plate and then drippings from the meat were slathered around it. A potato was gashed open and set next to it and it was about then that I lost touch with reality for a time.

I love prime rib. So succulent and tender is the meat, it seemed to me it must be created through some form of magic. But here was Nadeau, owner of Rolandeau’s in Auburn, rolling back the curtain so I could see the art behind the trick.

A funny thing: Discovering how prime rib is prepared in no way diminishes the appetite for it. The more I know, the more I want it.

And I mean right now.

But let me start at the beginning. And the beginning here is a roughly 14-pound rib that has been warming in a slow cooker for hours. Cooking technique is crucial, Nadeau tells me. But the most important step starts at the butcher shop.

“You look for the top quality meat. The better the quality, the more marbling it’s going to have,” Nadeau explains. “The most important thing in any beef is buying the best quality. If you want something good, you’re going to pay for it.”

If you’re trying this at home, you don’t need a 14-pound hunk like Nadeau was working with. That size rib produces a dozen or so inch-thick steaks for the customers wise enough to order one at Rolandeau’s. If you want three steaks, try a three-pounder.

It’s simple math.

“They can cut them any size you want,” Nadeau says.

You can also choose meat with the bone in if you want, but be warned: slicing the bone out of the meat is difficult if not dangerous.

Nadeau gets boneless every time. To slow cook a section with the bone in, it needs to be standing up in the oven, which is why they call it “standing rib roast.”

I did not know that.

Nadeau is not cagey about how he seasons the meat before it goes into the oven. He sprinkles it with salt, pepper and garlic and rubs it in. The meat is set on a sheet pan and slid into a “cook and hold” oven preheated to 240 degrees.

A cook and hold oven is used almost exclusively by restaurants. It is designed to cook food at low temperatures. Such an oven, at some point in the process, will decrease the temperature even further and continue to cook at the necessary sundial pace.

The preparation of good prime rib is not for the impatient or the famished.

“It cooks at a certain temperature but at some point, it goes down to 160 degrees and holds there,” Nadeau said. “It cooks slowly and gives you a nice, even color. It tenderizes as it cooks.”

Prime rib can be cooked in a conventional oven, certainly. But the temperature of the oven and the meat will need to be checked manually. The rule of low and slow applies — the lower the temperature and slower the cooking, the more tender the meat is likely to be.

Nadeau’s 14-pounder took nearly four hours to roast. Four hours! That’s like millennia if you’re waiting for prime rib.

When the meat is finally done cooking, Nadeau, the ultimate tease, adds more waiting to the prime rib equation.

“You want to cook it,” he said. “And then you want to let it rest.”

Excruciatingly, the gorgeous meat will sit for at least 10 minutes after it is removed from the oven. Nadeau covers it loosely with a piece of foil for this period, which he describes as crucial to the cooking process.

Once that long stretch of time passes, he hacks off the very end of the rib, a section akin to the end piece of a loaf of bread. He doesn’t throw the end slab away — had he done so, I would have dived into the waste can after it.

“We always have someone who wants that end piece,” Nadeau says.

Then he goes about slicing the rib into individual steaks, and even an act so basic as that is a specialized procedure, as all things must be with meat so exquisite.

“You don’t want to use a serrated knife,” Nadeau says. “You want to use a roast beef knife. The longer the blade, the smoother cut you’re going to have.”

And with that, he cut a section away to produce a prime rib weighing about a pound. He added the au jus — pan drippings seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic — added the potato and eased some other vegetables onto the plate. Carrots, broccoli, etc.

“We try to mix it up,” Nadeau says, “so the regular customers don’t get the same veggies every time.”

Vegetables, I thought? What vegetables? Because as I beheld the portion of prime rib so pink and perfect, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eat it or marry it.

The problem: You went and ordered the two-pound prime rib at Rolandeau’s (there is really such a thing on the menu) earnestly believing you could eat that much. Now you have a huge hunk left to bring home with you and here is the meat of the matter.

When asked how prime rib can be heated up at home, owner Roland Nadeau actually looks pained. Prime rib is meant to be eaten as it’s taken out of the oven.

Pressed for an answer, Nadeau says this: Put the leftover meat back in the oven in the au jus. Heat it low and just enough to warm it.

“It’s still going to be good and it’s still going to be tender,” Nadeau said, but we all know prime rib cannot be returned to its full glory hours after it’s cooked.

Nadeau has a better solution. Slice the leftover rib into thin sheets and make a sandwich out of it with French rolls. Warm the au jus and use that as a dip for your sandwich.

Didn’t bring au jus back from the restaurant? Make your own with beef bullion, and spice it with salt, pepper and garlic.

Start dipping and enjoy Round 2.

We’re in the hunt for great chicken cacciatore, pun intended, and find it at Marco’s Ristorante Italiano in Lewiston. (Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian.) The chefs also take aim at some homemade bruschetta. Bam! Next week.


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