I can’t believe how beautiful it was today, up here in Wisconsin. The sun was shining, the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s and the neighborhood was inundated with the aromas of people cooking out and enjoying the day. Not what I usually think of as a normal day in mid March. Not that I’m complaining. It was great! The best part is renewing old friendships that kind of go by the wayside during the winter months was most of us seem to hibernate as much as possible. Friends that we spend almost every weekend with, during summer, become strangers in those long, cold winter months. That is until the big snow storms when we all meet up, as we are digging ourselves out, and discuss how we can’t wait for summertime and resumption of our weekend rituals (which usually consist of endless games of Washers and copious amounts of beer).
With this unexpected good weather the wife suggested we do steaks on the grill. Being me, I never turn down the opportunity to cook up…and eat a steak. But this was the first major grill out of the season and I wanted to make it something special and to me that meant Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Now, when us Americans think of Italy the last thing that often comes to mind is grilled steak, but let me tell you the Italians know how to do it right. We’re not talking some lame old 10 oz. filet or 12 oz. NY Strip. Heck no! We’re talking Porterhouse, and not just any old Porterhouse but a 2+ inch, 2-3 pound behemoth, grilled until it develops a wonderfully dark, crispy crust yet still rare inside so that you can taste the beef as it was meant to be.
Here in the US it is almost impossible to truly replicate the Italian Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The reason is the breed of cattle used over there is the Chianina steer which hasn’t really seen widespread breeding here. Also, over in Italy, most of the cattle is still allowed to graze and isn’t force fed a lot of growth hormones and drugs. This means that the meat has a more pronounced flavor but also will be more prone to drying out when cooked past medium rare as it doesn’t contain the amount of marbling that our beef does.
As there really aren’t many ingredients to producing Bistecca alla Fiorentina this is really going to more of a “how-to” so I won’t be following my normal, standard recipe format.
First we need to gather up everything we need. Your top priority is finding a butcher you can trust and ordering your Porterhouse. While I often recommend purchasing “Prime” meat if you want the ultimate in flavor for this application “Prime” is really too well marbled. Ask your butcher to cut your Porterhouse from “choice” preferably Angus. Or better yet, if you can get your hands on a cut from a local farmer raising grass fed steer then jump on it! More important that weight is the thickness. You want a cut that is 2-3 inches (or approximately 3 fingers) thick. This will yield a Porterhouse that will weigh somewhere in the range of 2 1/2-4 pounds. You will also need a pepper grinder (please no pre ground pepper), some sea salt (kosher will would also be acceptable but stay away from table salt as it is both too fine and fortified with iodine which leaves an off taste) and a bottle of good, extra virgin olive oil. You will also need a bag of lump, hardwood charcoal, or if you are really feeling ambitious then hot coals from a hardwood fire that you allowed to burn down. Please forgo the charcoal briquettes for this and don’t even think about gas. Yes, I use a gas grill, as well as a charcoal grill, and yes you do get a better flavor from charcoal. You are going to have paid a handsome sum for that Porterhouse you just bought. You…and the steak deserve to do this up right. Don’t skimp on quality on any of these ingredients because that’s all there is. No garlic, no herbs and no way to hide poor quality ingredients.
Six hours before you are ready to cook, remove the steak from the packaging, place on a cooling rack set over a plate or sheet pan and return to the fridge. This will allow the surface of the steak to dry out somewhat, helping the in the development of the nice crust.
Three hours before cooking remove the steak from the fridge and allow to warm to room temperature. This step is very important in ensuring that the meat cooks properly.
15 minutes before you are ready to cook light the lump charcoal, using a chimney starter. Please avoid the use of any form of chemical firestarter as it can contribute off flavors to the steak. Once the coals are ready pour them out into the grill. Spread the coals out so that you will be grilling over a medium high heat. Replace the grate and allow the grate to heat up for 5 minutes. Clean the grate and place the steak on top.
You’ll notice that I did not oil either the grill or the steak nor did I season the steak before cooking. When I first learned this style of preparation I was confused as it went against just about everything I had learned about grilling, but trust me it works. You will grill the Porterhouse for 8 minutes on the first side, adjusting its position after about 3 minutes and then every 2 minutes after that. We are not looking for the traditional “grill marks” that mark an expert grillsman, but instead are looking for a nice consistent crust all over. After 8 minutes, flip the steak, season with a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground black pepper and cook for another 8 minutes, again spinning the steak regularly. Flip, and season this side of the steak then, holding the steak on edge, sear all the sides that didn’t get well seared before.
Stand the steak upright, with the bone in contact with the grill and grill for 4 minutes. Finally, give each side another 3-4 minutes on the fire, seasoning after each side comes off of the flame. In all, it will take about 25 minutes for a steak this size to reach rare to medium rare. Cook longer if you want it more done.
Now comes one of the most important steps; allow the steak to rest for, at least, 10 minutes. This gives the muscle fibers time to relax and allows the moisture to redistribute throughout the meat. If you don’t allow this resting time and slice the meat immediately you will lose most of the juices to the cutting board.
Once well rested, remove each lobe of meat from the bone and slice against the grain. Arrange on plates and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Use a light touch or the oil will overpower the beautiful steak flavor. Offer your guests fresh ground black pepper and the sea salt, but chances are they won’t need it. Enjoy!!