Bistecca a la Fiorentina is one of those dishes preceded by culinary awe and utter respect from foodies and novice travelers alike. I had never eaten it, because I had never been to Florence, and I was beginning to wonder if this was just hype and fretted over whether I would actually get a version that would make me sing its praises till kingdom comeâ€¦ After all, could it be better than Kobe or Wagyu beef? A steak at Peter Lugerâ€™s in New York? Our house specialty in Manila, a thick Angus cowboy steak grilled over hot coals? As with all great dishes, meals and specialtiesâ€¦itâ€™s spectacular if done well, but mediocre to disappointing most of the time. The first Bistecca I tasted was an impressive steak prepared at the hot grills of Buca Lapi and letâ€™s just say I started off with the real thing (though I didn’t manage to get a photo of it!)â€¦ I would never have risked this dish at a lesser restaurant.
Bistecca a la Fiorentina is actually a porterhouse steak. But not just any porterhouse steakâ€¦it must be from the Chianina Breed of cow which are huge, but I mean enormous, white oxen typically raised in Val di Chiana near Arezzo. The breed is now also raised in the U.S. but to get authentic Bistecca, you need to get it from a youngish Italian cow. The cut is actually the bovine equivalent of the small of the backâ€¦it is halfway down the back of the cow and the size of a good Bistecca is simply humongous because the cow itself is stunningly large. It is not unusual for the Bistecca, with one bone, to be 1.5-2.0 kilos rawâ€¦ Not only do you have to get the best porterhouse cut (some resort to the lesser T-bone in a pinch), but it has to be dry-aged properly so that its moisture content is not too high and the flavors have intensified. Our local beef in the Philippines almost never gets aged enough, thus the watery feel to the meat and the tons of moisture when you try to sear it in a panâ€¦
To cook, I understand the preference is for a hot wooden or coal fire. Simply sear the steak on both sides and it is preferable that you serve it rare to medium rare. Once off the heat, brush it with the finest extra virgin olive oil you can afford and sprinkle it with good sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Alternatively, some chefs sprinkle the steak with salt and pepper and chopped fresh rosemary and brush it with oil and cook it. The taste is sublime and the tender flavorful meat is quite special. Because so little is done to the meat, the quality of the meat is imperative and thatâ€™s where you have to focus if you want this dish done right. At the Mercato Centrale, I visited several of the meat specialists and found some spectacular Bistecca at a price of Euro 20 per kilo. This is probably one or two notches down from the finest meats but it should be good enough. At PHP1,300 a kilo, it better be really good. However, in the restaurants, the price is 3x or more, with a nice steak costing Euro 60-75! Do not buy this by weight, buy it by the natural slice of the steakâ€¦in other words, take your cue from the slab of meat in front of you and rely on a good butcher to cut you the ideal piece.