By Judy Witts
Italians have such great food at home, they rarely go out to eat, but when they do, usually it is for food that is better cooked out. Two examples are pizza in a wood burning oven and the bistecca fiorentina cooked over coals. It is a monumental 2.2 pound t-bone steak. At least a kilo.
(photo by Flickr user Gabriele Cantini)
Why is the bistecca so important in Tuscany? There are several reasons, the quality of the meat and how it is cut. It is a huge cut of meat, originally it was from the large Tuscan cow, the Chianina, like the Charlais. It is not meant to be eaten by one person alone, but rather a celebration to be shared. The meat is grilled and then cut into serving sizes, a normal steak may have 10 pieces, so three or four people could share one. If only two people are dining, normally they do not order anything else to eat and go hungry.
The meat is seared over the hot coals and left rare on the inside. The meat used for the steak is not marbled meat, and if cooked to medium will become tough. It is not worth fighting about, order something else if you don’t like your meat rare.
The bistecca alla fiorentina is a t-bone steak with the filet. Since it is cut so high, there are actually very few pieces with the filet, the other cut is called a costata and is the entrecote, cooked on the bone.
(photo by Flickr user McPig)
If you cannot fathom eating huge steak, the other option is to order the tagliata. This is a boneless cut of meat, cooked like the steak, but much smaller. Often it is served with a rosemary infused olive oil drizzled on top or with arugula and shaved parmesan cheese.
Since eating the steak is always a celebration, this is the time to drink a fabulous wine and of course pairs beautifully with a Chianti Classico or a Super Tuscan wine. The wine is best if it breathes, so if you know you are going to be having a steak, choose your wine first and have them open it so it can breathe. Then order a lighter wine to enjoy while you are waiting and order an appetizer or pasta to start. Eat like a Tuscan. There is a wonderful Italian saying, “ A tavola non si invecchia” you don’t age at the table. Take your time and enjoy a long leisurely meal with friends.
To create at home:
The secret to great steak is great meat. Source out a fabulous butcher!
The beef here grazes mostly on grass and is very lean, not pumped up with antibiotics and hormones, so needs to be left really rare to be tender.
Buy a 2 pound T-bone steak.
Leave it at room temperature.
It should be three fingers high!
Get the coals going or heat up a cast iron skillet or griddle.
When the heat is right (coals and wood should not be flaming, but hot coals white and red.
Put the meat on to cook.
Leave the meat to cook 3-5 minutes per side.
(depending on HIGH the steak is cut; in Italy it is three fingers high and will take longer)
After the steak is cooked, let sit for 10 minutes before cutting.
If you cut the meat right away, it will bleed and lose all its juices, drying out!
You want it to be black and blue, seared crispy on the outside, then with a grey layer, then the red , almost raw steak.
Think Prime Rib?
Cut the meat off the bone, into large serving sizes, divide the filet also.
Sprinkle with sea salt and if you like you can also drizzle with olive oil.