As the late and much-mourned Kyle Phillips wrote: “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, the Chianina beef.” (italianfood.about.com/od/beefbracioleetc/r/blr0568.htm). The story goes back to the Medici times, in July, and the feast of Saint Lawrence (who is himself the patron saint of cooks, remember …?myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/lorenzo-and-the-silver-lining). It became the custom on this feast day for Florence to come alive with lots of bonfires and grilled street food. Some English travellers happened to be there and called this cut of meat a “beef steak” and it got translated into Italian as “bistecca”. The vital statistics of a “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” are as follows. It is a porterhouse steak or T-bone steak. Big – must weight at least 1kg. The beef must be that of the Chianina breed. It must be at room temperature (if it was in the fridge, remove at least 4 hours before serving). It can only be cooked over a very hot grill. And it must be cooked so that the heart of the steak is basically raw. Towards the end, the steak must be cooked on the bone so that the heat can permeate through there as well. Once cooked, the bistecca must rest for about 10 minutes, and then be served on a large platter together with the bone; both the fillet and the contre-fillet on either side of the bones are then sliced. Purists will eat it as is … or with maybe a touch of olive oil … and eschew lemon altogether. Anyway … our group of Tuscan travellers decided we would cook ourselves a Fiorentina. We were close enough to Grevi and its Saturday market and that’s where we went to find it. We went to Falorni’s the butcher … (www.falorni.it). This was our cut of meat … You can buy the bistecche vacuum-packed. And this amazing shop also sells wine. Naturally … Liz, Libby and Sandy got to work choosing. I decided to head for home with the boys and get lunch ready. Lunch was a case of a luxury picnic lunch. In terms of flavours. We had bought some rotisserie-style chicken (“pollo allo spiedo”) and we also had not-a-few leftovers from the day before by way of cheeses, cured meats and veggies. As the long hot afternoon started to turn into a beautiful late afternoon … I called upon Liz to make a cocktail. The day before she had come up with a perfect Bloody Mary. Today, she made some sugar syrup and came up with a Martini Sour. There was an air of anticipation and excitement and Jack, our bistecca griller, was getting visibly anxious by the minute. Expert griller that he is, he wanted everything to be just right for our Chianina steaks. Come sundown … He got started. Because I had been on lunch duty … I basically just looked on while many hands made light work. Libby was preparing a tomato casserole … here she was using the one sharp knife we had in the house, bravely chopping some garlic. The garlic went into this dish, together with olive oil and seasoning and then into the oven. It is amazing how such simple ingredients can deliver so much taste! The asparagus was wrapped in prosciutto … Liz boiled some new potatoes … then drained them … then smashed them up a bit … and finally deep fried them. I could kick myself for not having a good shot of her potatoes! They were simply stunning! (She told me she got the recipe from: food52.com/recipes/25113-wonder-fries.) She also prepared a sauce, made up of mustard and butter basically, to accompany the steaks.When the fire was ready … I used some kitchen paper to mop them on both sides. That was my contribution to the evening meal, basically. Some herb mix was added to one steak … the rest was left “nature”. Here is Jack … counting the minutes. The butcher said to cook them for about 6 minutes on either side. Then we got into a discussion as to how rare we wanted them to be. I suggested that 20 minutes in all would be better. A rising full moon is just the thing for conversation and philosophysing as you drink some wine and await the dinner. When the steaks were au point, we lay them on a platter and covered them in a tent made of aluminium foil. We let them “rest” for at least 15 minutes. Time enough to grill the asparagus and onions. Ooooh ! Look at that! And here is Liz now, slicing away with the one sharp little knife we had available. (It was so sharp that I had cut my thumb the day before and it was all I could do to staunch the blood … oh the drama!). We had added salt and pepper before cutting the steaks. And were they good? What do YOU think? Good enough to finish eating like this! That’s my husband’s hand patting Liz’s back as she goes through a gastronomic Stendal moment!
P.S. Here is a link to Kyle Phillip’s instructions on how to cook a Fiorentina: http://italianfood.about.com/od/tipstricks1/ss/aa012706.htm And another link from Emiko Davies: http://www.emikodavies.com/blog/the-perfect-bistecca-fiorentina/