The protagonist of today’s article is “Bistecca alla Fiorentina“. You’ve probably heard about it already, since it is one of the most famous dishes of Tuscany, appreciated and searched by people from near and far, once they get to Tuscany. Though it might seem a simple dish to prepare, its difficulties will put to the test the most willing and keen. Trying to solve the many doubts we have collected the fundamental tips to become a pro in the making of the “Bistecca alla Fiorentina”.
A bit of history
The story of the bistecca alla Fiorentina (also known as beefsteak Florentine style) is at least as ancient as the city from which its name comes from. It’s easy to lose track of when it first appeared. Still, the tradition of this dish and its name seem to be born during the celebration of San Lorenzo at the time of the Medici family. During the night of San Lorenzo (today still a very important feast celebrated in Florence on the 10th of August) the city would be brought to light by big fires in the streets. Beef meat was cooked on those fires and offered to the people of Florence during the feast. At that time Florence was one of the most powerful and dynamic cities in Europe, attracting people from all over the world. According to the legend, some British knights attended the celebrations of San Lorenzo. They were offered the meat, they recognised the cut as a beef steak. It was translated as bistecca (if you think about it they sound very similar) and the name has arrived to us. According to an alternative version, we owe the bistecca alla fiorentina to the British residents of Florence in the 19th century. As they were wealthy and nobles they could afford to buy the best cuts of meat and would call it ‘beaf steak’, quickly translated into bistecca.
The animal, the cut and the cooking
Not all steaks are bistecche! To be a true Fiorentina, che meat must come from the Chianina. This is a native breed of cow of central Italy, raised in the Val di Chiana (south of Florence) for centuries, where it’s still bred and protected by the IGP certification of origin. As for the cut, we rely on the one given by Pellegrino Artusi, the first great chef to bring Tuscan food in the world, who states as follows: «Bistecca alla fiorentina. From beef-steak, English word meaning ox rib, comes the name of our bistecca, which is nothing more than a chop with its bone, one/one and a half finger thick, cut from the loin of a calf». Though the definition given by Artusi is simple and clear, the debate around the bistecca is still a lot around its thickness.
The beef-steak by Carlo Morandi
At Poggio al Bosco, when we want to eat a nice bistecca we go to Carlo and Maurizio Morandi, renowned in the area and definitely the number one butchers in Tavarnelle. Every steak bought from them comes with instructions, an ode to how every steak should be and how it should be cooked: «Who has had the luck of eating once in their life a real bistecca, of the right proportions and hanging, cooked in the right way and mostly coming from the right breed ‘Chianina’, can never forget it. 90% of the merit of a great bistecca is in the meat, the rest to the cooking. An inadequate cooking can ruin the best steak and the opposite is not true. The cooking must be simple, natural and quick. After a few minutes on the ambers, turn the steak over with a spatula (never punch the meat) and let cook on the other side. How many minutes? There is no rule! Usually the beset practice is to wait until the up-side of the steak starts to sweat. It’s the juices inside the meat coming out and evaporating for the heat. As soon as the sweating starts, flip the bistecca and let it cook for exactly the same time on the other side. Salt and pepper, eventually, should be added once the meat is cooked and on the dish».
Bistecca and Chianti
For us Tuscans bistecca is a feast dish, almost luxurious, to eat with family and friends and a good bottle of wine on Sunday. The traditional wine to pair with the steak is obviously Chianti. The matching bistecca-Chianti is maybe one the most famous and still true food habits in Tuscany. Here at Poggio al Bosco, we have the luck of eating bistecca with our Chianti Riserva, which fits perfectly.