A few years ago I was in a well-known foreign hotel chain, still not content with the string of fake “Italian” restaurants it already possessed, decided to go one step further and add to its portfolio the greatest fraud of all. This restaurant, the ‘pride and joy’ of the hotel chain supposedly specialized in regional Italian cuisine. It was described as a ‘Tuscan restaurant and pizzeria’.
Then I had a surprise. In the meat section of the menu was a dish called Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine Steak). This is a classic dish of Tuscan cuisine. It is from a cut of quality meat.
I was certain that I was facing the umpteenth culinary ‘faux pas’. Anyways, I walked towards the open kitchen of the restaurant and asked if I could see the ‘Florentine steak’ listed on the menu. We were in a supposedly ‘Tuscan’ restaurant, yet there were no Italian or local Tuscan people either in the kitchen or in the dining room. I was all geared up to eat a nice, rare piece of meat, and asked the chef if it was possible to have a rare steak cut with a thickness of 4.5 cm. “No” he answered. “We get our steaks already cut.”
Is the steak from Florence? Or from Val di Chiana? No, Australia.
A ‘Florentine steak’ can only be defined as such if it comes from a native bovine animal, bred in Val di Chiana in Tuscany. This cattle breed is called ‘Chianina’. A decent Florentine steak weighs between a minimum of 1.2 g and 2.0 kg and up. This cut is much bigger than any other cut from other cattle breeds because the Chianina cattle are huge animals. In the past, they were used as draft animals for their strength and docility. If you want a classic T bone steak (fillet and sirloin) Chianina cattle offer bigger fillets than any other breed, the finest steak cuts come from the central part of the animal and can be nearly as big as the sirloin parts. Thickness of the steak must be a minimum of 3.5 cm. The meat must be “hung” for an adequate period of time. The steak must be at room temperature before it is cooked and it must be cooked just as it is without any marinade or seasoning. The meat must be turned only once and need to be cooked on embers from a wood fire. Fiorentina must be served rare or at most medium rare. Once taken off the heat, the meat must be seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled generously with extra virgin olive oil (oil must be Tuscan or Umbrian). The steak must then be left to rest for a few minutes so that all the meat juices settle down and stay there. This way blood will not come out when you start cutting into the steak.
Chianina meat is difficult to source even in the Florence area because the production of Chianina beef is very limited. Within Italy even restauranteurs have difficulty in sourcing this meat, unless they have close contacts with producer.
Drawn from Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognaise & Caesar Salad by Maurizio Pelli.
For info: The Culinary Clinic by Maurizio Pelli.