Thinking About Braciole

The Braciola, Turned

The Braciola, Turned

The word Braciola means different things in different parts of Italy: In many parts of the South it’s a slice of meat rolled up around a filling, what is called an Involtino further north, whereas in the North it’s a flat slice of meat.

But as is often the case, even this is a generalization. Antonio Piccinardi says, in the Dizionario di Gastonomia, that the word Braciola in its northern conception likely derives from Brace, coals, and thus refers to the cooking method rather than the meat itelf.

Indeed, braciole can be cut from pork, horse, lamb or sheep, or beef, and after noting this he says that a braciola is in any case a slice of meat from the lumbar or dorsal region of the animal, and that it includes the bone.

Braciole: Dario Cecchini Cuts them from the Groppa

Braciole: Dario Cecchini Cuts them from the Groppa

In Tuscany the situation is somewhat different.

Artusi, for example calls for baciola senz’osso, without the bone.

And when I asked Dario Cecchini, Panzano’s master Butcher, what cut he uses for beef braciole he replied Groppa, one of the muscles in the rump area of the animal, and to illustrate how good it is, while he sharpened his knife he quoted a ditty by Roventino da Panzano (A Tuscan street poet who, in the tradition of medieval troubadours, happily discusses all sorts of racy things), the part of which suitable for a Family Publication runs, L’é come le braciole nella groppa, più ne mangi più ne mangeresti: It’s like braciole cut from the groppa, the more you eat the more you want to eat…

Groppa is, Dario says, the cut used in Tuscany — in Lombardia they use Fesa (an Italian meat cuts chart, for the curious), whereas the equivalent cut in the United States would be a more generic rump steak, because in the US the meat is mostly cut by meat packers, who do not divide the meat as do Italian butchers.

 

Dario, Trimming the Groppa before Cutting a Braciola

Dario, Trimming the Groppa before Cutting a Braciola

The first step to cutting a braciola is producing an even surface from which to cut. Dario will either sell this first unevenly shaped piece of meat to someone who is doing something else, say making a stew, or grind it.

Dario, Slicing a Braciola

Dario, Slicing a Braciola

Next, Dario slices the braciola. An even cut that’s about a half-inch (a little more than a cm) thick , and note how dark the meat, which is nicely aged, is.

A Freshly Cut Braciola

A Freshly Cut Braciola

And here we have it, a beautifully marbled braciola weighing about a half pound. What to do with it? Dario grinned.

“Heat a pan with a few drops of olive oil, a garlic clove you’ve peeled and crushed with the heel of your palm, and a few fresh sage leaves. A brisk flame to brown the surface, flip it after a couple of minutes, and cook a minute or two more, so the outside is nicely browned while the inside remains pleasantly rare. Salt at the very end, at table.”

His expression became serious, and added that if you are not planning on cooking the meat as soon as you get home, you should remove it form refrigerator a half hour before you plan to cook it to allow it to come to room temperature. Going from Fridge to heat is an “usanza barbara,” barbaric.

A Braciola, On the Griddle

A Braciola, On the Griddle

Dario’s suggestion for pan-frying a braciola is wonderful, and absolutely classic — some of the earliest Italian meals I can remember involved braciole cooked this way, and little can be better.

However, Elisabetta and I were in a mood for something even simpler, and got out our cast iron bistecchiera, an 8 by 12-inch (24 by 36 cm) ridged griddle weighing about 2.6 k (6 pounds), heated it over a brisk flame for a few minutes, and set the braciola on it. After a few minutes more we turned it, and upon removing it from the bistecchiera salted it.

A bottle of Chianti, crusty bread and a salad, and it was very good.

While we’re on the subject of Flat Braciole…

Testing for grilled meat doneness: Use your fingers

Judy Francini’s instructions for cooking a steak on a cast iron griddle

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Categories: Illustrated Recipes And More, Italian Ingredients, Italian Meats - Piatti di Carne

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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