Stony O’Neill and Some Damn Fine Prime Rib
It’s funny how a place can get under your skin. Maybe more than that, into your marrow. Vermilion is like that (yes, one “L”, I’ll explain sometime). Almost two decades of working there and I still count the seconds until I can get back up and always shed a tear when I head out at the end of the season. Every turn in that goat path called Kaiser Pass road has a memory attached to it and every creek seems to have someone’s voice. My father’s and brother’s ashes are at Ward Lake, a beautiful spot just off the road, and I want mine there too. A lot of my friends have been up with me and I hope to take many, many more. Unless you’ve been it’s actually kind of hard to describe.
I’ve learned a lot during my summers cooking there and certainly not just about food. I’ve learned how to three-point winch a car back onto the road, make bear traps out of a cans of spray paint and some bacon, and how to jury-rig a broiler to run on propane instead of natural gas. A very colorful cast of characters, guys like Butch Wiggs, Lester Neher and Stony O’Neill, have been my instructors. Being from the city, I didn’t even know people like that existed until I made the backcountry of the High Sierra my second home.
Stony was a gem and my favorite. Nephew to Jack O’Neill, a famous Fresno business and cattleman, Stony was a bronco riding, mule packing, Coors-swilling kid who turned into a tough-as-nails Fresno cowboy with fists the size of canned hams. My favorite tale about him was when he had to leave the state to work in Arizona after knocking out a Clovis cop at the 500 Club downtown. We did the town run once a week (before Sysco started coming up the hill) to get groceries, mail, fuel and supplies for camp. On our return trip we would stop at literally every bar along the way, our last always being Lakeshore Resort for a quick pop at the tavern before pushing on over the pass. He loved to talk local history, cowboy lore, and food and often related (perhaps overly) colorful stories about his Uncle’s cattle business. He knew beef though and was pretty damned handy manning the grill for the Saturday night barbeque at VVR.
He passed away over eight years ago, but his prime rib still stands out. I’ve had the recipe written down on a cocktail napkin since he gave it to me. I think it’s time to be shared. He liked his “cap on,” meaning the fatty part opposite the rib was not removed. A lot of places today either remove it or trim it way down. His secret was cutting the cap off, putting beef bouillon and onions underneath it and tying the whole damn thing back together. Here it is.
1 large prime rib
1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup each minced garlic, Pappy’s seasoning (from Fresno), coarse grind black pepper and beef bouillon (the good stuff, not the powder)
2 quarts of decent beef stock
Have your butcher prep a prime rib with the fat cap still attached. Ask him to cut under the fat cap like it was going to be removed but leave it attached a bit on one side.
Have him trim the roast from the rib bones and then tie it back on. Prepping this way makes it way easier to season, better for carving later too.
Untie your roast. Under the fat cap put beef bouillon paste, half of the onion and half of the garlic. Lay the fat cap back over the roast and retie.
Rub the outside of the roast with other half of garlic, black pepper and Pappy’s. On top of the roast put the other half of onion slices.
In a heavy-bottomed aluminum or cast iron roasting pan, put your roast and some of beef stock. Insert a meat thermometer.
Roast at 450 for 30 minutes.
Turn the oven temperature down to 325, cook approx 25 minutes per pound or til your meat thermometer reads 130. Do not let the thermometer go over. Your roast will still cook a bit even though it has come out of the oven, so don’t murder it. A finished temperature of 130 is medium rare-ish. If you want your roast more rare cook only til the thermometer reads 120-125,the temperature will rise up to 10 degrees after you yank it from the oven.
Add beef stock to the roasting pan once in a while to keep a little moisture in there. Don’t let the good stuff in the pan get dry and scorched.
Remove the roast from the oven, scrape off all the onion and garlic, cut the twine and remove the fat cap, remove all stuff from under the fat cap. Discard the fat cap (or feed it to the dog) and what you scraped off the roast. Set the roast on a plate or cutting board and let it relax about 30 minutes before you slice.
Set roasting pan directly on stove and heat. Deglaze with beef stock and stir up all the good, chunky stuff from the bottom. I’m a big believer in the immersion blender here. Puree all the solid stuff and add a bit of browned flour if it needs thickened. Use as your au jus.