Of all the unbelievably great food to eat and swoon over in Florence, the Florentine Steak is arguably the most famous dish. (WAIT, truffle pasta, suckling pig, burrata, pizza, gelato… well, those will each be argued as notable in future posts!) La Bistecca, a huge porterhouse T-Bone, grilled rare and simply seasoned with salt tastes like no other steak you have eaten. If you think you dislike rare meat, that will change when this succulent, tender, buttery meat melts in your mouth. As with all incredible Italian food, the secret lies in starting with the best ingredients in the world, then preparing to perfection.
Florence lore depicts the Florentine steak originating in San Lorenzo (our neighborhood) in the 1500s during the Medici’s reign. The Duke of Florence’s daughter was getting married and the celebration included setting up numerous fire pits and roasting massive cuts of meat in San Lorenzo for the guests. Allegedly, traveling Brits in the square started shouting, “beefsteak” and the Italians picked up on the chant, creating a new slang term, “bistecca”. It stuck! To this day, La Bistecca is the most famous dish in Tuscany.
Walking around Florence you will see large cuts of beef hanging in windows of trattorias and osterias (one of our favs, Le Cappelle Medici Ristorante Enoteca, pictured here) – these are the dry aging refrigerators proudly displaying the prized beef from the celebrated Chianina cows. These massive “mucce bianche” (white cows), have been bred for the Florentine’s favorite steak for over 2,000 years. This meat has beautiful marbling, but contains less cholesterol than its American counterpart, and actually has a higher protein content. The meat is usually cut 1.5-3 inches thick, anywhere from 2-4 pounds so there is plenty to share.
Recipes vary very little. It starts with the preparation before cooking. Cold meat on a hot grill will make the meat seize and get tough; that’s why grill masters say it’s best to have meat at room temp before your cook it (20-30 minutes on the counter). With the Florentine Steak, the grilling process begins with the steak standing up on the bone for 15 minutes. This warms the meat through the radiant heat of the bone and melts the fat into the flesh. Then meat is grilled 5-7 minutes on each side. Only turn once - without moving the steak to secure good grill marks. Let meat rest for 10-15 minutes to reabsorb the juices. Run the knife along the edges of the bone, then slice into 1” pieces. Purists will season only with salt, others may also add pepper and a little olive oil (or even rub with garlic and rosemary before cooking). TIPS: When you order, do not tell them how you want it cooked. They will roll their eyes. It only comes one way. It would be like asking a famed Japanese chef to cook his sushi. When it’s served, do not ask for steak sauce. They might deport you!
We’ve devoured this dish at numerous restaurants in Florence. When we have friends or family in town (like Violet's hometown buddies from elementary school who cleaned their plates and nibbled on the bone!), one of our activities will definitely include heading to PARIONE for this memorable meal, shown here with crispy roasted potatoes and arugula. Literally perfect. We paired with a beautiful local Tuscan wine, Modus. The service there is lively and friendly. The chef plays the role of my back-up husband (he’s so talented!). If you only have a couple of nights in Florence, PARIONE is a must, and it’s THE place to experience Tuscany’s T-Bone (Florentine purists, please jump in now and tell me I'm wrong and supply your own favorite spot). When you go out for this meal, it becomes the central character of a storied night in Florence… the lore, the presentation, the massive scale – and when you taste it, well, the rest is history.