Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine Style Steak

Thick Bistecche alla Fiorentina

Thick Bistecche alla Fiorentina

Many in the English-speaking world would call a Bistecca alla Fiorentina a Porterhouse cut and wonder what the fuss is about. And they’d be right in most cases; though fiorentine are featured prominently on the menus of almost all the restaurants in Florence, finding a good one isn’t at all easy.

But when you do it’s heaven on earth, delightfully rich, flavorful rare meat so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Much of the secret is the breed of cattle, Chianina beef, which are huge white oxen raised in the Val di Chiana, near Arezzo. Their meats are both tender and flavorful, and because of the size reached by the animals the steaks can easily exceed 6 pounds — to find a source for Chianina beef in North America contact the American Chianina Association.

Otherwise, buy a steak from another breed; to serve two people you will want one that has been well aged (go to a butcher you trust), weighs 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, and is 1 3/4 inch thick (6-800 g and 4 cm). As Vittorio Zani and Giampaolo Pecori note, in A Fuoco Vivo, a little collection of grilling recipes, the thickness is given by the thickness of the T-bone that separates the filet and contre-filet; this means that in the case of a huge animal the steak could be even thicker and weigh more.

The cut? Porterhouse is best because it has both filet and contre filet. If that’s not available, then T-bone or strip steak.

The Fire? Hardwood or charcoal.

Once you have your steak and your coals, which should be quite hot (you should be able to hold your hand over them for — at the most — 4 seconds), set your grill about 4 inches (10 cm) above them and let it heat for a few minutes, but not too long because otherwise it will burn lines into the meat. Drop the steak on the grill, let it sear briefly, and then reduce the heat by raising the grill slightly. As soon as the steak comes off the grill easily flip it and liberally salt the freshly grilled surface. After a few more minutes, when the other side comes free, flip again and salt. Don’t worry about over salting because the seared surface won’t allow the salt to draw out excess moisture.

Thick Fiorentine, Stood Vertically

Thick Fiorentine, Stood Vertically

At this point, if the steak is thick enough that you can stand it on the bone for a couple of minutes, do so. If not, continue cooking it flat until it reaches the degree of doneness you like.

The important thing is that the heat remain constant and intense following the initial very high-heat searing, and if the coals look like they’re dying down gently fan them back to life. The cooking should happen in the space of a few minutes, and when done the steak should still be rare on the inside. How much time? This depends upon your fire and your taste.

One of the best tests for doneness of a steak is feel — Quoting the Joy of Cooking (3rd edition, p. 657): “A raw steak will be squishy and soft. Steaks cooked to rare yield less but remain quite soft. At medium-rare the meat will feel springier with a slight bit of firmness. The meat continues to firm up (and toughen) as it cooks; a well-done steak will feel hard and unyielding.”

In terms of describing the feel, Bob Pastorio says, “Short course: press gently near the base of the thumb – that meaty place called the mound of Venus (really!) – with the index finger of the other hand. That’s what rare meat feels like. Press in the center of the palm. Medium. Press at the outside edge of the hand at the pinkie knuckle. Well done.”

Do keep in mind that your steak, especially if it is thick, will continue to cook for a few minutes after you remove it from the fire. Therefore figure your cooking time accordingly. The Joy also suggests cooking times for steaks straight from the fridge, and says to add or subtract 1 minute per half-inch thickness of steak. If you’re using room temperature meat, the meat will cook a few minutes faster.

Thickness: 1 inch (2.5 cm)

  • Rare 10-12 minutes
  • Medium Rare 12-16 minutes
  • Medium 16-18 minutes

Thickness: 2-inch (5 cm)

  • Rare 18-20 minutes
  • Medium Rare 20-24 minutes
  • Medium 24-28 minutes

(After the Joy of Cooking)

What to serve your Fiorentina with? In the past people suggested a pat of butter, but the most you’ll see today is a lemon wedge. And a tossed green salad, which will nicely complement the meat without impinging upon it the way a salad with tomatoes or other vegetables would. Other possibilities for side dishes include fried potatoes and freshly boiled white (canellini) beans drained well and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. And a rich red wine, along the lines of a Chianti Classico Riserva or a Brunello.

Oh Fiorentina, Cooking & Serving a Bistecca alla Fiorentina, illustrated

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Categories: Beef & Veal Steaks, Braciole, and More, Tuscan Meat Recipes

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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