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Florentine Style Steak Recipe - Bistecca alla Fiorentina

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Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine Steak
Maremagnum/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Many in the English-speaking world would call this a Porterhouse and wonder what the fuss is about. And they'd be right in most cases; though Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine-Style Steak, is 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...

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Thick steaks, with the bones
  • Salt
  • Hot coals, ideally hardwood
  • Freshly cracked pepper

Preparation:

Continuing from above, Chianina beef are the 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 (7-900 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.

Once you have your steak and your coals, which should be quite hot (you should only be able to hold your hand over them at grill height for about 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. A few minutes more, flip, pepper (lightly), flip, pepper again lightly, and that's it.

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.
Raw meat is squshy and soft, and as it passes from rare though medium to well done, toughening as it goes, it becomes progressively firmer, and finally 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 of Cooking 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.
  • A 1-inch steak: Rare, 10-12 mins; Medium Rare, 12-16 mins; Medium, 16-18 mins
  • A 2-inch steak: Rare, 18-20 mins; Medium Rare, 20-24 mins; Medium, 24-28 mins
What to serve your Bistecca alla 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, a Chianti Classico Riserva, or a Brunello, or a Barolo.

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