If you are a bit of a meat-lover, like me, one of the highlights of visiting Florence is ordering a Bistecca alla Fiorentina – a Florentine steak. Being faced with such an enormous chunk of meat could be daunting, but like many Tuscan dishes, it’s best when shared.
Its history dates back to the times of the Medici and celebrations of the feast of San Lorenzo. On his feast day, still celebrated on August 10th, parties were held in the piazzas around Florence. Large pieces of meat, donated by wealthy families, were cooked on open fires and shared with the people. At the time, Florence was often a resting place for travellers, and it is said that English knights were often included in these celebrations. Enjoying local hospitality (and plenty of local wine, I’m sure), they encouraged their hosts to share more by shouting “Beef steak! Beef steak!” The Florentines adopted this, and it is still called Bistecca to this day.
Today, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the pride of many a Florentine restaurant, but beware! There are rules! The steak is cut from the loin and has a T-bone in the centre, with a fillet one side and a sirloin on the other. One of the favourite breeds of cattle is also one of the oldest – the Chianina breed. They can be traced back to Roman times, their white coat being widely valued in triumphal processions.
When ordering, you will often be shown the raw cut, for your approval, before cooking. It’s usually 3-4cm thick and can weigh from 1-3kg. (Prices on the menu are usually quoted per kg.) Don’t be afraid to ask for a larger or smaller steak, depending on how hungry you and your companions are. One piece of advice, never…and I mean, never…ask for it to be cooked well done! Bistecca alla Fiorentina is served rare…always! There are no sauces needed for this dish. It is cooked on hot coals or burning wood and seasoned well before serving.
Here, we can see our Bistecca being cut and prepared by Eleonora, in our favourite Florentine restaurant. (She has the same name as the cook in my story. Coincidence?)
Ok, so a lot of red meat is not good for you, but this is a rare treat!