The Culture of Food and Drink

Home / Cooking  / Classic Prime Rib for Christmas Dinner

Classic Prime Rib for Christmas Dinner

prime rib

Prime rib for Christmas dinner. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Although everyone in my family loves crown roast of pork, and baked ham, and everything else one is suppose to eat at Christmas, we do have a go-to menu every year simply because after many discussions we can never decide and we’re all too exhausted from Thanksgiving anyway. And this is no time to experiment. So we opt for a delicious but simple classic prime rib for Christmas dinner with Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach. Appetizers, punches, desserts and guests may change every year, but these three dishes get made over and over again and we never regret it.

A prime standing rib roast is a given. It’s very expensive, but well worth the splurge, and you don’t have to do a thing to it. If prime rib is prohibitively expensive, you can always use USDA choice rib, which is what you’re likely to be offered in the supermarket anyway.

Remember that one rib feeds two people, so a three-rib standing rib roast will feed six or seven people generously. Ask the butcher for a standing rib roast cut from the loin end and not the fattier shoulder end. Ask them to “French” the roast, which means to cut the fat away from one end of the rib bone to expose it.

Prime rib should always be cooked rare to medium rare. If you cook it beyond this point  you are destroying the reason you bought such a tender — and expensive — piece of meat in the first place. If you like beef cooked medium to well then buy the appropriate kind of cut, which will benefit from longer cooking, such as round or chuck steak.

Prime Rib Roast With Horseradish Sauce

Serves 6-8

For the roast:

One 3-rib (7- to 8-pound) prime or choice standing rib roast


1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Place the roast, fat side up, in a roasting pan in the middle of the oven. Check the roast after 30 minutes to make sure things look OK. Baste the ends with the accumulated juices. Once the internal temperature reaches 110 F, after about an hour, you need to be very attentive as the cooking can quickly finish. At some point remove ½ cup pan drippings for the Yorkshire pudding. Test the rib’s doneness by putting an instant-read thermometer into the meat (not touching a bone) in two places, leaving it there for 15 seconds. It should be 120 F. Immediately remove the roast from the oven.

3. Remove the roast to a carving platter and let rest 20 minutes. Serve with horseradish sauce.

For the horseradish sauce:

This is the simplest way to do it, the traditional accompaniment to prime rib.

5 tablespoons bottled horseradish

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1½ cups whipped cream

½ teaspoon white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

In a bowl, vigorously stir together all the ingredients.


Creamed spinach. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Creamed Spinach

Serves 6

4 pounds fresh spinach, heaviest stems removed, washed well

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ cup heavy cream

¾ cup milk

1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Pinch of nutmeg


1. Put the spinach leaves in a large pot with only the water adhering to them from their last rinsing, then cook, covered, over high heat until the leaves begin to wilt, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain very well in a colander, pressing out the liquid with the back of a wooden spoon, saving 1 cup of the spinach water you press out. Finely chop the spinach using a mezzaluna or a chef’s knife.

2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour to form a roux, cooking for 2 minutes while stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and slowly add the cream and milk. Whisk until smooth, then add the garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. As it thickens add some of the reserved spinach water and stir and continue cooking until it is like a very thick pancake batter.

3. Add the spinach, stir, and cook until it is heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the nutmeg, stir, correct the seasoning and serve.

Yorkshire pudding

Yorkshire pudding. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Yorkshire Pudding

Serves 6


1½ cups whole milk, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup reserved prime rib roast pan-drippings


1. In a blender, blend the milk, eggs and salt for 15 seconds. With the blender running add the flour, a little at a time and blend the mixture at high speed for 2 minutes. Let the batter stand at room temperature, in the blender, covered, for 3 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 F.

3. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat the reserved pan drippings in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is just smoking. Blend the batter at high speed for 10 seconds and pour it into the skillet.

4. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 F and bake the pudding 10 minutes more or until the top is all puffed up and a deep golden brown. Transfer the pudding to a platter and serve immediately.

Photo: Prime rib. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "One-Pot Wonders" (Wiley).

  • L. John Harris 12·26·12

    I understand the classic combination, repeated year after year. These rituals mean a lot in terms of family identity and connection. I get it from the brunch I have every year on Xmas day with my vegan/vegetarian sons (one each) and extended family. There are the eggless latkes and the tofu scramble for my sons and the lox,bagel and cream cheese plus scrambled eggs and onions for the non-vegie adults. Its tradition. But speaking of prime rib, friends made one Xmas day night using this method: Place the well-salted meat in a 550 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn off oven and let roast sit for 5 hours without opening the door. Sounds crazy, but it worked–crusty outside, medium rare inside. Have you ever tried this? Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!