Florence is famous around the world for its thick-cut, meltingly tender and incredibly flavorful steak -- the "bistecca alla fiorentina." Many Americans would call this a Porterhouse and wonder what the fuss is about. And they'd be right in most cases; though 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, savory, rare meat so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Much of the secret is the breed of cattle, Chianina.
Chianina cattle are huge white oxen raised in the Tuscany region's Val di Chiana valley, 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 each.
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 to 2-inches thick (700-900 grams and 4 cm thick).
As authors Vittorio Zani and Giampaolo Pecori note in "A Fuoco Vivo," a collection of Italian 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 even more.
Fiorentina-style steak is always served al sangue (very rare) and really, it's a crime to overcook such a high-quality cut of meat.
- 1 thick (about 2-inch) steak, with the bones (For the cut, Porterhouse is best because it has both filet and contre-filet. If that's not available, then use T-Bone or strip steak.)
- Dash sea salt
- Dash pepper
Prepare the Coals and Grill
Once you have your steak and your coals ready (they 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. Grill for a few minutes more, flip, season lightly with pepper, flip, pepper again lightly, and that's it.
- The important thing is that the heat should 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 on your fire and your taste. In general, however, if you are using about a 2-inch steak and it has been removed from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling, it should take just about 3 to 4 minutes of grilling per side over high heat.
- 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.
Tip: One of the best tests for doneness of a steak is the feel. Raw meat is squishy 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."
- In the past, people suggested a pat of butter, but the most you'll see today is a lemon wedge and a tossed, simple green salad. Other possibilities for side dishes include fried potatoes, cannellini beans seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sauteed spinach.
- Serve accompanied by a rich, full-bodied red wine, such as a Chianti Classico Riserva, a Brunello, or a Barolo.