A few years ago my husband and I traveled to Tuscany, and we have been trying to recreate the food experiences we had there ever since we got back. The one thing we have had a hard time finding are the amazing steaks used for the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. I know it comes from the Chianina breed, but are there any sources for that beef in the U.S.? If not that breed, is there maybe a heritage breed that could work in its place? We have a few local beef sources that raise heritage breeds, but no Chianina. Thanks!
Chianina (pronounced key-a-nina) are a very old breed of cattle originating in Italy, traditionally used in this simple dish — the traditional preparation in Florence — of grilled steak.
I asked Cree LeFavour, author of The New Steak for help with this one. Here is what she said:
The Chianina is available in the United States, but it's mightily hard to come by, as you know. Rather than making yourself crazy trying to find it, or any other heritage breed, my advice for recreating the steak-bliss you experienced in Tuscany (short of ponying up to Alitalia) is to look for certain qualities in the meat you buy.
It goes without saying that you should start with naturally raised beef meaning no meat from feedlots, or treated with hormones or antibiotics. Once you have a source, ask for a porterhouse, but not just any porterhouse. You want richly marbled beef — think spiderwebs! — cut into an obscenely fat steak (two and a half to three inches thick).
One of the distinctive qualities of the Chianina is its size and how fast it puts on weight; a big steak on a hot fire sears beautifully on the outside but stays rare and tender on the inside. No less important than its size, the steak you buy should be properly dry aged. This lengthy process dries the meat, lending a really great cut of beef the rich, intense flavor that you're longing for.
A drizzle of fruity, fresh olive oil and a squeeze of lemon before it goes to the table is never a bad idea, nor is a glass of Barolo to sip as you cook!
• How To Broil A Steak In The Oven
• Eight Tips for Grilling Perfect Steak
• American Chianina Association
(Images: Flickr Members McPig and dottorpeni licensed for use under Creative Commons)
• Chianina Steak with Chef Cesare Casella on Gourmet.com (video)