The festive holiday table calls for a once-a-year splurge that throws both calorie-count and cost out the window.
For many Americans, that will mean tucking into a standing rib roast elevated by its traditional companion, Yorkshire pudding. Fattening? Yes. Ludicrously expensive? Of course. But worth every decadent bite.
And, if you're gifted in the kitchen like meat guru Bruce Aidells of Healdsburg, you could also add a porcini-spinach stuffing, then gild the lily with a toasted peppercorn and whiskey sauce.
"Whiskey sauce is my play on steak au poivre (pepper steak)," he said. "But I use Irish whiskey and red wine (instead of Cognac). It's definitely a rich sauce. It's not a dieter's meal."
This year, Aidells published "The Great Meat Cookbook," a comprehensive guide to buying and cooking all kinds of meat, from bison to spareribs. The hefty tome boasts an impressive, 15-pound standing rib roast on its cover, a kingly feast fit for 8 to 12 guests.
With the price of beef soaring to $15 a pound or higher, Aidells estimates that that size roast would now run about $225.
"The price of beef is up 20 or 30 percent," he said. "We've had two years of massive drought."
Since the meal requires a sizable investment of time and money, Aidells also offered a few tips to make sure your holiday roast comes out flavorful, rosy-pink and perfectly cooked.
First, he advised, buy the best slab of beef you can afford. That's actually a bit more complicated than it sounds.
For the uninitiated, the standing rib roast is a cut of beef from the rib, one of eight primal cuts of beef. It is located between the chuck (shoulder) and the short loin, and comprises ribs 6 through 12 along the back of the animal.
The best cut comes from the "small end," or ribs 9 through 12, which are located toward the rear of the animal. As you proceed toward the shoulder, the "large end" rib roast (ribs 6 through 9) includes more fat and is less desirable.
"As you proceed toward the head, you have other muscle groups," Aidells explained. "So you're seeing pockets of fat in the prime rib."
To make matters more complicated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture grades beef according to its fat marbling. The main choices for consumers are Prime (2 to 3 percent of all graded beef), Choice (three levels: moderate, modest and small marbling) and Select (about 40 percent of all graded beef).
"If you can afford it, Prime is special," he said. "If you go with Choice, look for the best marbling."
If you're still confused, then find a good butcher who can help you navigate through the jargon.
"I like Big John's Market, which is our go-to place .<TH>.<TH>. and Whole Foods is also a good place," Aidells said. "Costco sells the seven-bone roast, and because they buy so much, they tend to buy at the highest level."
Another alternative is to order a rib roast from Golden Gate Meats of Santa Rosa, which supplies local restaurants but takes special orders.
If you're cooking a bone-in roast, expect to buy about one pound per person, Aidells said. That way you'll have a little extra in case unexpected guests show up, or for a midnight snack.