How to Rock a Steak Like a Tuscan!
Here’s the beef! Do Italians really eat steak? We thought pasta was their thing. WRONG! Italians are definitely about more than pasta. Not only do they eat and prepare steak with the same simplicity and respect for ingredients that you see in their other dishes but their preparation is given the same precision. Nowhere do they do it better than in Tuscany, home of the infamous Bistecca Alla Fiorentina or Florentine Steak, among the most classic of all Italian dishes. (Fiorentina – means in the style of Florence) The preparation of this dish is so simple and easy, you might wonder – what’s the big deal? I’m here to tell you that this simplicity IS the big deal.
I know, I know – everyone has his/her favorite method of cooking steak. This is a little different, and I offer only guidelines, as I am not right there to peer into your grill detecting the hotness or intensity of the fire. All I can say is – this is different –it is the Florentine way – and it results in an amazing piece of meat.
First, back to the pasture: Italy is not known for its abundance of grazing land. Thus, less beef is eaten in many regions than other meats. The finest of these areas are located in the North. Ah – but then… there’s Tuscany! A drumroll please… It is here in the renowned Val di Chiana near Arezzo that the revered Chianina cattle make their home and provide the steak for the authentic preparation of Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. These animals are always white and provide some of the finest steaks in Italy. Pronounced: kya-NEE-na, these cattle are the largest breed in the world and among the oldest dating back over 2200 years. Because of the high quality of tender and juicy meat and the nutritional value they have been cross-bred with cattle throughout the world.
The Tuscan Way: Typically, Tuscans cook very simply with the best of ingredients. They do not douse their culinary creations in fancy complicated sauces. Aside from relying on good ingredients, the Tuscans, look more to method – how a dish or a meat is prepared. In this case, Tuscans follow some definite rules. The authenticity of the steak dish is all-important. Aside from using the Chianina beef, the cut needs to be perfect – from the vitellone or young steer (not a calf) – uh – and well hung, as they say. No joke – it’s true! Alas, in this case, folks, size does matter. The steak must be at least an inch thick and cut from the rib. The usual portion designated for two is 2 1/2 pounds, and the cut is preferably Porterhouse with the filet and contre filet. However a T-bone is a fine choice. A 2 1/2 inch thick steak or “three fingers” is perfect.
Dry, Dry, Baby: Obviously, dry-aged is the way to go if you can, but the pocketbook does not always allow. To go the extra mile, and get the most out of what you have, you can dry your steak a little beforehand as described by the blog, Memorie di Angelina : Try propping the steak up on chopsticks for a few hours so that air can travel underneath and take some of the wetness out of the meat. This is definitely worth doing, folks. You can also repeat this chopstick idea after grilling when you are letting the steak rest for a few minutes.
Burn Notice: Never, never, never overcook a Tuscan steak. It’s a rule! (and a tragedy) Customarily, the steak is grilled over charcoal or wood fire. Just a few short minutes on each side, you’re done. A true “Fiorentina” is traditionally served rare – but the idea is to enjoy it – so if you must have it a little more “done”, have at it.
The Slicing: You will always see this steak cut in one characteristic fashion which is straight across the meat, with the filet removed first ( if you have a Porterhouse) and then then the contre filet or strip steak.
Oh By the way: My husband, Tom, likes to take the leftover steak (“as if” there is any left) and lightly fry it up in a little olive oil with a fried egg the morning after. He says this is not your Waffle House Steak and Eggs –it’s the best you will ever taste. Put it on your bucket list. A “must do”.
Perfection: You can find Bistecca Alla Fiorentina virtually anywhere in the Florence area. When it’s good – it’s perfection!
Fire up that grill for the best steak you’ll ever have! Move over, “favorite steakhouse” – you no longer need their services.
BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA
Cook time: about 20-24 minutes for the size indicated–for rare Fiorentina style
Rest: 5-10 minutes
1 2 1/2 pound Porterhouse or T-Bone Steak about 2 – 2 1/2 in. thick – or even 3 if you like! We’re talkin’ thick here. Go with the 3 finger rule!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for brushing and drizzling
Sea Salt or Coarse Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Lemon Wedges or Grilled Lemon Halves
Important: Take steak out of refrigerator at least an hour before cooking (2 is better) and bring down to room temp – results will always improve by doing this. Try the chopsticks method mentioned in the text.
Sprinkle with Sea Salt and fresh pepper generously just after you take it out. This helps to form a crust when grilled. Lots of Sea Salt or coarse salt is necessary before and after the grilling.
When ready, heat up your grill to very hot – preferably using charcoal or wood fire (You’re going to want some good smoke here – I prefer wood – oak, hickory etc)
Grill the steak 3-4 inches from the fire.
Plan on about 8 minutes per side for the rare Fiorentina style, (plus a few minutes standing on the bone) if your steak is in the 2 1/2 inch range, but the time will depend on how you like it. The time will ultimately be determined by how hot your grill is and how you prefer the meat. This is only a guide. Keep in mind that the steak will continue to cook a little after you remove it from the grill. The thicker the steak – the longer the cook time. If 3 inches – plan on about 20-24 minutes total on a hot and smoking grill for rare meat alla Fiorentina.
When the first side is done – flip the steak over and cook that side.
When the second side is finished, some like to stand the steak on the grill upright on the bone side for about 4 minutes. This forces the blood away from the bone and provides more even cooking.
A note: Be careful – the tenderloin side will cook faster than the strip or contre filet side. Move the steak around to accommodate as necessary.
Let the steak rest for about 5-10 minutes after removing from grill.
Just before serving, Salt and pepper again and drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The slicing is part of tradition and authenticity. It is done this way:
Cut the filet out first.
Then cut out the contre filet or the strip steak.
Then slice each section. It is usually served as you see here.
Serve with lemon wedges or grilled lemon halves. I like earthy choices for sides here: some beautiful sauteed wild mushrooms along with a bowl of Tuscan white beans seasoned with a little olive oil, coarse salt, and fresh Rosemary.
The Finish: A steak like this prepared in an authentic fashion must always, in my book, be served with the very best you can afford in a beautiful red wine. Many like Barolo, but my first selection would be the smooth and always lovely Brunello di Montalcino. Casalino 2006 DOCG is a beauty. A fine Chianti Classico Riserva would also give this fine steak its proper due.
Not another word necessary!
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography