Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Flashback to Tuscany - Steaks on the Fire

(This is the second in a series on cooking in Tuscany.  Part 1 here)

When we visited Tuscany in ‘09, our villa had this wonderful open hearth fireplace.

As it was cold most nights, we put it to good use. As I sipped wine beside it the first night, I couldn’t help but ponder that it had probably been used for cooking in centuries past. And that got me to thinking, why not try to cook something with it?

The answer, of course, was steaks. We hit the market the next day, and I selected a couple different cuts to attempt to cook over the open flame of the fireplace. I got two good sized filet mignons, as well as some thin cuts from the rib section (what I would call 'entrecote' if I were in France).

Now, how to cook the steaks? Luckily, there was a large iron skewer next to the fireplace. It was probably meant more to be a poker, but I cleaned it up and rubbed it with a little olive oil, and the steaks slid on it no problem.

I initially held the steaks over the fire, trying to get a good sear, but it was not to be. The steaks weren’t searing, but the skewer was becoming too hot to hold. So, I went to plan ‘B.’ There was something resembling a rack in front of the fire, so I laid the skewer across this, and went back periodically and turned the meat.

The steaks eventually cooked, but it was slow going. Since they sat more in front of the fire than above it, there was no high heat cooking going on, but more of a slow roasting. The cuts I selected would have benefitted more from the intense heat of a charcoal fire, and I found that they were so lean they dried out a little. If I cooked with an open fireplace fire like this again, I would get a tougher, more roast-like cut like an eye of round, which would benefit more from slow cooking.

So, a few days later the wife and I were wandering through the San Lorenzo Market in Florence, and I spotted this amazing hunk of beef.

Yes, that’s an entire primal cut from which T-bones and porterhouses are cut. My mouth was practically drooling as I told the butcher in broken Italian to cut me a two inch thick porterhouse. He hacked away with a cleaver, and this is what we had when we got home.

I knew I had to grill this one up proper, so I asked the lady next door if she knew where I could get a grill. She said she had one, and would be glad to loan it to us. Well, it turned out to be the worlds smallest grill, measuring just big enough to fit that massive porterhouse on top. But, it did the trick.

The fireplace helped out as well. I used some burning embers from it to start the little bag of charcoal which we’d also found in the market.

This time, we got a perfect steak for our efforts. Mama Mia was it good!  And big enough to serve two!

So, until we meet again, I'll leave you with a last image, from that same night:  Twilight gathering over the city of Florence in the distance.  Makes me wish I were there once again, drinking wine, and cooking something delicious!

Until next time,