If you’d like to serve something different this holiday season, why not consider côte de boeuf? A bone-in rib of beef that is served as steak, and not as a roast, côte de boeuf is a popular cut is France. It is ultratender, flavorful and easy to prepare. If you can convince your butcher to cut the meat as the French do, then this elegant dish would make a lovely centerpiece to a festive meal, perhaps accompanied, as shown here, by a cauliflower gratin.
The French tend to celebrate not just New Year’s but also Christmas on the eve, gathering with family or friends for an exceptional meal. A typical festive evening might start with champagne and amuse-bouches (‘palate ticklers’), such as gougères. The guests then move to the table for an opulent succession of dishes — perhaps oysters or foie gras, followed by a sumptuous main dish, assorted cheeses and a gala dessert. If you’re looking for suggestions, different variations on this theme may be viewed under Holiday Menus.
Birds often feature as the main dish. Over the years, I have posted recipes for roast duck, goose, turkey, partridge, pigeon and quail — as well as fish/seafood dishes and vegetarian/vegan options. This year I wanted to try something different, hence rib of beef.
A côte de boeuf is the equivalent of an American ribeye steak, with the bone included. It is prepared in two stages. First the meat is pan-seared to seal in the juices. It is then roasted for a relatively short time in a very hot oven, allowed to rest briefly and sliced off the bone. Nothing is added until the very end, when the meat is salted and peppered. When buying the rib pictured here, I asked Marie Pacaud, who presides over the excellent Boucherie du Marais, whether to rub the meat with garlic. I received the French equivalent of fuhgeddaboudit: the Gallic shrug. ‘That would distort the flavor,’ she said drily.
A single côte de boeuf will typically serve 4-6 people. Restaurants sometimes propose it as a dish for one or two, but it would take a gargantuan appetite to finish off an entire rib, especially at an elegant meal with many other dishes involved. Side dishes for côte de boeuf range from potatoes — roasted with rosemary, gratinée or French fried — to veggie purées (for example, of celeriac, finocchio or sweet potatoes), green beans and/or salad.
Cauliflower gratin is another option. Ultra-simple to prepare, it marries steamed cauliflower flowerets with cream, garlic and grated cheese, baked together until bubbly and golden. Prepared in this way, the humble cauliflower becomes an elegant side dish — or could feature as the star of a vegetarian meal. When serving rib of beef this week, I paired the gratin with a watercress salad.
This is my penultimate post of 2021, a year that has proved challenging for all of us. Although I usually post on Fridays, my next recipe will come on Thursday, December 3o, to give you time to shop for ingredients if you choose to serve it on New Year’s Eve or the day after. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Christmas. And…