Jul 30 2007
The Web abounds with recipes for Bistecca a la Fiorentina. Most of them are pretty accurate, which should come as no surprise given how easy this is to make. However, there are a few points of method that should be made, namely:
- Do not oil the steak before you cook it; the oil will burn, leaving a bad taste. Rather, the objective of this kind of steak is the specific allure of rare grilled beef with raw olive oil.
- Use a good quality olive oil; ideally from Tuscany.
- Use a Porterhouse steak, preferably at least two inches thick.
- Ideally (some would argue necessarily), use beef from the Chianina breed of cattle. Good luck. (Although you might be able to track some down via the American Chianinia Association.)
- Let the meat sit at room temperature (covered) for an hour before grilling.
After that it’s as easy as can be. Bistecca a la Fiorentina is basically just a really big Porterhouse steak dressed only with salt and pepper, then grilled until rare, sliced, and dressed again with olive oil and lemon juice. It’s a nice change from the spicy and saucy American style of steaks we usually eat during grilling season.
I had been wanting to make this ever since I read about it in Bill Buford’s book Heat. Buford’s now proverbial “Dante quoting Tuscan butcher” friend prepared it for him, and the description was, as is typical of the book, a bit over the top. That one was something like four inches thick and grilled for thirty seconds. (OK, I exaggerate; but so too, I suspect, did Buford.)
I doubted I would find any Chianina beef nearby, but didn’t worry about it as I figured this first attempt was experimental; designed to get a feel for the technique. So I went for regular ol’ beef (I don’t even know the breed). I got the butcher to cut me a nice two-inch thick, 800 gram Porterhouse, and I could tell by the twinkle in his eye that he knew I was up to something good.
At home, I followed the prescribed method pretty much to a tee:
- Let the meat come to room temperature (about an hour out of the fridge, covered).
- Rub the meat on both sides with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and kosher salt.
- Grill over direct high heat for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes per side.
- Move to indirect medium heat and cook for another 7 to 8 minutes, turning once.
- Remove the meat from the fire, cover, and let rest for five minutes.
- Cut the filet and contre-filet from the bone, and slice at a slight angle (to cross the grain of the meat).
- Dress with extra virgin Tuscan olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Serve and enjoy!
Warning: the following photos may be off-putting for vegetarians.
One big Porterhouse steak:
(My apologies for the substandard quality of the photos; when the steak came off the grill I wasn’t exactly in “photography” mode.)
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