Bistecca alla fiorentina

Bistecca alla fiorentina (Steak Florentine)

In secondi piatti, summer, Toscana by Frank52 Comments

People don’t always associate steak with Italian cooking, but in fact, one of the glories of Tuscan cuisine is a simply prepared Porterhouse steak, grilled rare, over a wood fire: bistecca alla fiorentina, or literally Steak Florentine. The dish is so typical that if you ask for a fiorentina in a restaurant in Italy, without saying more, this is what you will be served.

The recipe is exquisitely simple. But as for any other kind of steak, there are some  key points that you need to bear in mind, starting with the quality of the meat. In Italy, a true bistecca alla fiorentina is made with Chianina beef, raised in the Chiana Valley. Chianina beef is apparently now being raised in the US, although I have yet to find it in any market. You can make a beautiful steak with good quality beef of any origin. In the US, look for choice or, better, prime  grade meat.

For this holiday meal, I found a beautiful side of prime Porterfhouse displayed at the local butcher, which could be cut to order—which brings me to another key point: a bistecca alla fiorentina must be cut thick, at least 1-1/2-2 inches (3-5 cm) but even better at 3 inches (7.5 cm) thick. This allows a nice crust to form on the outside of the steak while the inside remains rare. A fiorentina is never, ever served well done (nor, in my opinion, is any good steak).

Ingredients

  • One Porterhouse steak, cut at least 1-1/2 inches thick
  • Salt
  • Olive oil (optional)

Directions

Preparing your steak for grilling. There are some preparatory steps that are critical to ensure the best results. If you get your steak from a good butcher, it should already be aged and rather dry to the touch—as it should be. But if you buy your steak in a supermarket, it is likely to be wet, in which case it helps to air dry it in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight. Place the steak on a rack. If you don’t have a rack, you can prop it up with two chopsticks over a plate. This will allow air to circulate around the steak, top and bottom, so it dries evenly. If you air dry your steak for more than a few hours, cover it loosely with a towel to prevent the meat from drying out too much.

Bistecca alla fiorentina-1

Even more important than air drying is tempering the meat: making sure that the meat is room temperature before you cook it. If you plan to eat the meat the same day you buy it, just leave it out until you plan to cook it (unless you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate). But if you have refrigerated the meat, take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you plan to grill it, so that it come back to room temperature. This operation will ensure more even cooking.

Grilling. Now get your grill nice and hot. (Some sources will warn against excessive heat, which supposedly can toughen the meat, but I have not found this to be true in practice, at least not with good quality meat.) Wood is the fuel of choice here—oak is traditional—or charcoal. If you must, a gas grill will do, although the final product will lack the characteristic smokey flavor of a true fiorentina. But don’t sweat this too much; I make do with a gas grill myself. If you have a smoker box, pre-soaked chips of oak or another a mild wood will add character to your dish.

Place the steak on the grill. If your meat is cut thick as it should be, lower the heat a bit, to ‘medium-high’, and grill it for five to ten minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the steak (See notes below). If you like cross-hatched grill marks, place the steak across the grates diagonally, starting at ‘ten o’clock’:

Bistecca alla fiorentina-2

Then, halfway through the cooking time for this side, turn the steak to ‘two o’clock’:

Bistecca alla fiorentina-3

When you turn the steak over to cook on its other side, you will see the lovely cross-hatched grill marks that are the pride of so many ‘grillmeisters’. Now season the steak liberally with salt as the steak cooks on the other side, repeating the two and ten o’clock positions if you like. Turn the steak over and season it again on its just-cooked side. Finally, for a 3-inch monster, you can and should grill the steak on its flank for another five minutes or so, using the bone to prop the steak up. This will drive the juices away from the bone for more even cooking.

Bistecca alla fiorentina-4

The total grilling time for a 3-inch monster fiorentina will be about 25 minutes (see Notes below for details on cooking times and testing for doneness.

Resting. After your steak is done, remove it from the grill and let it ‘rest’ for about ten minutes. This resting is another crucial step (perhaps the most crucial of all) that ensures that the meat will remain juicy when you carve it. Use a rack or chopsticks, just as you did for the air-drying, to ensure circulation all around the steak; this avoids the crust getting soggy underneath.

Bistecca alla fiorentina-5
Carving and Serving. A Florentine steak is too big to serve individually. It is typically carved up, first by removing the filet and then the contrefilet from the T-bone, then slicing the meat against the grain:

Bistecca alla fiorentina-6

Removing the tenderloin

Removing the contrefilet (aka strip steak)

Removing the contrefilet (aka strip steak)

Each diner helps themselves to as much steak as they want. Many people serve the meat with lemon wedges, but as far as I’m concerned a sprinkling of salt—and maybe pepper—is all this steak needs!

Bistecca alla fiorentina-8

Notes

 Cuts of beef: A top quality, thick cut Porterhouse steak is what you need to make a true fiorentina. This kind of eating does not come cheap. (The ‘monster’ shown here set me back a cool $90.) In our house, a steak like this is a treat for special occasions, so I don’t mind the expense. T-bone would be the next closest thing, followed by a strip steak (which is nothing more than the contrefilet served on the bone.)

My personal favorite cut for steak, a bone-in ribeye, also called a ‘cowboy steak’, is wonderful made this way. Of course, if you can’t afford—or can’t find—aged prime beef, ‘choice’ grade (which is what you are likely to find in a supermarket) will also be delicious. I would not use this technique on lower grades of meat like ‘select’. These grades of meat really need some help—like a marinade—to make for good eating.

Connoisseurs debate endlessly about the best way to prepare a fiorentina or, for that matter, any other steak. Here are some brief explanations of the major ‘issues’:

Seasoning. Some sources, including the august Artusi, solemnly warn against seasoning the steak at all before it is entirely cooked, on the theory that salt will draw out the juices. More modern sources allow seasoning the seared side of the meat, as suggested in this post. Other sources  recommend seasoning the meat before cooking. This is something that had previously been thought would prevent good browning by bringing the juices the surface. But it actually works well if you season the meat an hour or so before grilling. This allows enough time for the salt to penetrate the meat, which draws the juices back in. (These days this is my preferred method.)

Turning while grilling. Then there is the traditional school of thought that the steak should only be turned over once. But more modern sources call for turning the steak several times, which is said to ensure more even cooking. I have tried both and, quite frankly, can’t tell much difference in the taste or texture of the final product. Turning often does allow you to season the steak more thoroughly but you sacrifice those nice, neat grill marks.

Dressing. Some of the earliest sources, including Artusi, call for dressing the cooked steak with a dab of butter. This touch, so uncharacteristic of Tuscan cooking, is said to have been invented for ex pats—specifically, the English—who played such a prominent role in the life of 19th century Florence (as portrayed in the film Room with a View). More common these days—and more consonant with Italian culinary tradition—is a drizzle of olive oil.

Rubbing and Marinating. It is common to rub the steak with some olive oil before grilling .This helps it brown and form a nice crust. Some sources (including Artusi, again) condemn the practice. They say that it gives the steak an ‘off’ flavor, but I have not found this to be the case. A nice rub of olive oil can help when you are using a less-thickly cut steak. When you are using a thick steak, you will have enough time to brown it nicely on its own. You will even find some recipes for a ‘fiorentina’ calling for marinating the steak with rosemary, garlic and other aromatics. These variations can be delicious—and for lesser grades of beef, almost obligatory—but they are definitely not authentic.

Cooking Times. As mentioned at the outset, a true fiorentina is served rare—very rare. For those who cannot stand the idea of a blood red steak—if you really must—you can serve it medium-rare. However, a well-done fiorentina is heresy. Most traditional recipes call for cooking the steak about 5 minutes per side. For a 1-1/2 to 2 inch (3-5 cm) steak, this makes for a very rare piece of meat. You can increase this to as much as 10 minutes per side for a thick cut steak. (This article contains a convenient chart on steak grilling times by thickness.) A 3 inch (7.5 cm) ‘monster’ Porterhouse will take a total of 25 minutes, including 5 minutes on its bone side, for a rare steak as pictured in this post.

Testing for doneness. The most exact way of testing a steak for doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Steak is rare at 125 degree Farenheit (52 C), medium at 140F (60C) and well done at 170F (77 C). But many grillmeisters prefer the touch method, using the so-called ‘rule of thumb’. Raw meat feels like the muscle just below your thumb when your hand is open or slightly cupped. If you if touch you index finger with your thumb, this muscle will contract a bit, becoming a bit firmer—the same firmness as a rare piece of beef. when you press it gently with your index finger. Touch your middle-finger for medium-rare, and so on.  The following diagram illustrates this ‘rule’ well:

Bistecca alla fiorentina

And a final note on Tuscany’s most famous butcher…I always associate bistecca alla fiorentina with Dario Cecchini, who may be the first—and only—celebrity butcher in the world. And here is short guide to the way Dario prepares Steak Florentine. Dario has his own website and blog. He has been featured on any number of ‘foodie’ TV shows, including Gourmet magazine’s Diary of a Foodie and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s well worth catching one of these episodes if you can. Dario is quite a character—the only butcher I know who regularly quotes Dante!

Bistecca alla fiorentina (Steak Florentine)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: One large Porterhouse steak, enough for 4-6

Bistecca alla fiorentina (Steak Florentine)

Ingredients

  • One Porterhouse steak, cut at least 1-1/2 inches thick
  • Salt
  • Olive oil (optional)

Directions

  1. Preparing your steak for grilling. There are also certain preparatory steps that are critical to ensure the best results. If you get your steak from a good butcher, it should already be aged and rather dry to the touch—as it should be. But if you buy your steak in a supermarket, it is likely to be rather wet, in which case it helps to air dry it in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight. Place the steak on a rack or—if you don't have a rack—you can prop it up with two chopsticks, over a plate to catch any blood that may drip out. This will allow air to circulate around the steak, top and bottom, so it dries evenly. Even so, turn the steak every so often to ensure even drying on the outside and circulation of the blood inside the steak. If you air dry your steak for more than a few hours, cover it loosely with a towel to prevent the meat from drying out too much.
  2. Even more important than air drying is tempering the meat: making sure that the meat is room temperature before you cook it. If you plan to eat the meat the same day you buy it, just leave it out until you plan to cook it (unless you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate). But if you have refrigerated the meat, take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you plan to grill it, so that it come back to room temperature. This operation will ensure more even cooking.
  3. Grilling. Now get your grill nice and hot. (Some sources will warn against excessive heat, which supposedly can toughen the meat, but I have not found this to be true in practice, at least not with good quality meat.) Wood is the fuel of choice here—oak is traditional—or charcoal. If you must, a gas grill will do, although the final product will lack the characteristic smokey flavor of a true fiorentina. But don't sweat this too much; I make do with a gas grill myself. If you have a smoker box, pre-soaked chips of oak or another a mild wood will add character to your dish. Place the steak on the grill. If your meat is cut thick as it should be, lower the heat a bit, to 'medium-high', and grill it for five to ten minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the steak (See notes below). If you like cross-hatched grill marks, place the steak across the grates diagonally, starting at 'ten o'clock'. Then, halfway through the cooking time for this side, turn the steak to 'two o'clock'.
  4. When you turn the steak over to cook on its other side, you will see the lovely cross-hatched grill marks that are the pride of so many 'grillmeisters' (see first photograph above). Now season the steak liberally with salt as the steak cooks on the other side, repeating the two and ten o'clock positions if you like. Turn the steak over and season it again on its just-cooked side. Finally, for a 3-inch monster, you can and should grill the steak on its flank for another five minutes or so, using the bone to prop the steak up. This will drive the blood away from the bone for more even cooking.
  5. The total grilling time for a 3-inch monster fiorentina will be about 25 minutes (see Notes below for details on cooking times and testing for doneness.
  6. Resting. After your steak is done, remove it from the grill and let it 'rest' for about ten minutes. This resting is another crucial step (perhaps the most crucial of all) that ensures that the meat will remain juicy when you carve it. Use a rack or chopsticks, just as you did for the air-drying, to ensure circulation all around the steak; this avoids the crust getting soggy underneath.
  7. Carving and Serving. A Florentine steak is too big to serve individually. It is typically carved up, first by removing the filet and then the contrefilet from the T-bone, then each against the grain. Each diner helps themselves to as much steak as they want. Many people serve the meat with lemon wedges, but as far as I'm concerned a sprinkling of salt—and maybe pepper—is all this steak needs!
http://memoriediangelina.com/2010/05/31/bistecca-alla-fiorentina/

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Comments

  1. You might find this interesting…or not 🙂 but Bistecca is an English derivative (there is a story why this came to be as well…) as in Beef Steak and was mispronounced in Italian. The original or traditional name was Carbonata because it was cooked directly on the embers. The intense heat would cause the exterior to become carbonized while locking in the juices. True Florentine restaurants still do it this way but there are not that many. The traditional cut leaves at the side of the steak a long piece of bone. The reason why it was this thick is because the steak was cooked standing up on the embers laying on the side of the bone. Just a bit of trivia.

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  3. Proof that when you start with the best ingredient – you need little else. Just some tender care in cooking. The only way I cook steak.

  4. Porterhouse it must be Frank, your instructions are flawless in my opinion. I have a good butcher and have him cut the steak to order. The cost does make this a special occasion meal, but oh is it worth it.

  5. We have really good friends who have us over for steaks quite often, and they’re always overcooked. It’s really hard to act happy, so I’ve just started serving myself a very small portion to minimize my sadness. Love the idea of the chopsticks!

    1. Author

      Ugh! An overcooked steak is a crime against humanity! Not to me.ntion a waste of good beef…

  6. Time to get to the butcher, eh? I am glad you gave instructions for a gas grill, as that is what we’ve got. Once I attempted to order a «fiorentina» in Italy, and when they brought it to show me prior to cooking, it was the size of a large platter. My Italian was not so good then and I attempted to order a small number of «etti» – hilarity ensued. I ended up with a grilled veal chop and was very happy. The Steak they showed me would have fed an entire village! But it was the most beautifully dressed steak I have ever seen!

    1. Author

      Love that story, David! Those porterhouse steaks can be truly enormous… They are beautiful, though!

  7. Great recipe. It looks delicious. Soon I will go to Florence and cannot wait to taste fiorentina there. I am not a big fan of red meat but cannot resist a nice fiorentina.
    Happy summer, Paola

  8. Great post and I learned some things! Myself? I rub my T-Bones lightly with olive oil. salt and pepper before grilling. I firmly believe that the very best steaks are most simply prepared. I will have to try the ‘let rest’ an hour after salting.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Ben! John is right, the let rest after salting method really does work. It’s what I do these days, too.

  9. I haven’t had steak in ages, and now, of course, you have me craving it! Lately I’m bee salting mine when I take it out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. The salt penetrates the meat a bit — it’s almost a dry brine. I’ve never had much luck cooking really thick steaks on the grill. Normally I’ll sear each side, then stick it in the oven for 10 minutes or so. For me, it’s a bit easier to control its cooking (medium rare, please). You do lose some of that smoky flavor, though. Anyway, great read — thanks.

    1. Author

      That’s my usual salting method these days, too, John. Works great! And funny, I have opposite problem with grilling steaks—my nemesis are the thin ones. They usually get too cooked inside before the outside has developed that nice sear that I love so much.

  10. Oh, my!! A good steak is something to behold and taste!! We are carnivores in this household and so were my mamma and papà but it was years before they indulged, it was the price. When they finally bought higher end meat it was a celebration. Your steak looks delicious.

    1. Author

      Thanks Marisa Franca! Yes, indeed, a fine steak really is a thing of beauty. But yes, also really expensive. I buy one these once a season.

  11. Unfortunately, my favorite type of steak is a thin”fettina”, garlic, salt and sautéed in olive oil for about 1 minute. 🙂 That with homemade fries and a salad (preferably in Italy) is one of my favorite meals on earth. My husband, however, is on Team Fiorentina! 😉

    1. Author

      I’d never turn down a nice fettina. And in fact as an everyday dish a fiorentina would probably be just too much. But for that occasional treat, in my book, there’s nothing like a Porterhouse…

  12. Grazie Mille Frank … your recipes and instructions never disappoint. I’m thrilled to have discovered Memories of Angelina.

    1. Author

      And I’m thrilled to have you as a reader, Arlyne! So glad you’re enjoying—and using—the blog. All the best, Frank

  13. I live in the UK and would love to buy a fiorentina steak to cook at home – actually I want to buy it as a Birthday present for my husband. Does anyone know where I can buy them please? Thanks.

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  19. I lived in florence for 27 years and I confirm that the “tutorial” is perfect.
    I would add one tip tough: when you flip the steak don’t use a fork because you will cut the meat and the blood will come out

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  22. Brilliant post, Frank! I’d love to splurge on a monster porterhouse steak. If I do, I’ll certainly use your instructions and tips. That is one beautiful steak!

  23. Thanks, folks, for all the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the post. Indeed there is nothing quite like a nice, thick, juicy steak…

  24. Oh bloody goodness! ::Sigh:: I lived in Florence for two years and had many a delicious Fiorentina. This post makes me want to go back asap and order a big fat one. With a side of rosemary potatoes and a glass of red. Mmmm mmm mm,

  25. Frank
    One of your best posts(the're all good). Got to go to the butcher after work and get some aged beef(starts at 25/lb.) and always comes restaurant quality.

  26. Wow, after learning that tip once about testing for doneness, I've never seen it again. Thanks for bringing it back for it's been very helpful. Great tips and beautiful steak.

  27. Hi Frank
    what a great job with this steak….when we were in Florence my wife wanted to try it, but she won't eat meat if there is any trace of pink….so I vetoed that Idea…that would be a terrible thing to do to a great piece of meat.
    thanks for sharing such a great informative post!

  28. Frank – Thanks for the great tips. I didn't realize that trick about air drying. I remember eating this Chianina beef in Florence after the ban had been lifted following the mucca pazza scare. It was simply delicious and yours looks that way too.

  29. just another great post – I'm a rub griller myself using oil to moisten the meat first, of course, I don't think I have ever cooked a 3-inch steak…

  30. I did a couple rib eyes on the BBQ yesterday. I rarely have steak but it's such a treat when you do.

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