Super-Tuscan Grilled Rib Steak (with Polish Sides)

Chef at Il Latini Ristorante brandishes the Florentine restaurant's famous porterhouse. We found the same recipe works just as well with a whacking big rib steak. Photo courtesy of Il Latini.


[Editor's note: For side dishes please scroll down.]

By David Frum

Years ago, my family enjoyed one of the great steak dinners of our lives at a restaurant in Florence called Il Latini  The distinctive beef of the Florentine steak, or fiorentina,  is unavailable in North America. But thanks to the coaching of Pam, our genius local butcher in Washington, D.C. (who reigns over the meat counters at Wagshal's), we were able to simulate pretty much everything -- minus the restaurant’s atmosphere of realistic plastic hams dangling over long tables covered in red-checkered tablecloths. 

Start with the cut: The non-Kashrut-observing Italians would use a porterhouse, but we have found a bone-in rib steak works just as well. The thicker the better. Three inches ideal. Don’t be daunted by the seeming huge size of the steak. Once cooked, you’ll slice it into strips for individual service. A 3-inch one-rib steaks feeds at least three people, unless one of them is a boy home from college. 

Next step is the seasoning. We use Schwartz’s Steak and Beef Spice from the famous Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen in Montreal (“Charcuterie Herbraique Montreal, Inc.”), Most steak-grilling snobs will tell you not to add anything more than salt, pepper and olive oil to a great piece of meat, and they are right. Schwartz’s, however, has managed to create that perfect combo of salt and pepper, with a little bit of kick to it that will not offend purists — and yet it creates a lip-smacking seasoned crust. (Fun fact: Schwartz’s was purchased in 2012 by French-Canadian Canadian singer, Celine Dion. I’m guessing she orders crates of the spice flown down to her in Vegas.) It’s available online for $4.75 CDN per bottle just not, alas, through FT&V — or we would have retired by now. 

If the meat is well selected, aged, and butchered, and in the absence of Schwartz’s, the ideal seasoning is very simple: salt, pepper, maybe a little crushed garlic. It should be applied generously, to create a crust. I'll use about one-quarter of a bottle of the rub on one large rib steak.

Now comes the secret ingredient: a cast iron pan. The difficulty in cooking a thick, thick steak on a gas barbecue is that the outside can be charred before the inside is cooked. Here’s the work-around.

Place the pan on the grill even before you ignite. Pre-heat the grill very, very hot, over 500 degrees. The pan will become even hotter. Place the steaks on the grill and immediately reduce the heat, down to about 400 degrees. Close the lid, but stand nearby: if you hear warning signs that fat from the steaks has created a flame, you’ll want to intervene promptly. You’ll want to cook the first side for about 8 minutes, depending on the strength of your grill and the exact dimensions of the steak. 

Then, flip the steaks into the hot iron pan on their opposite side. Cook in pan for about 10-12 minutes, again depending on strength of grill and size of steaks. 

If you have a smaller grill or pan to work with, you can conserve space by starting one steak in the pan and the other on the grill, then swapping them. 

The basic concept is to grill one side of the steak - and fry the other. This double method produces a steak that wraps the seared outside of the classic American barbecued steak around the succulent interior of a steak cooked on the stovetop. 

Remove the finished steaks from the grill and let sit for 10 minutes. Remember that the meat will continue cooking while sitting, so you want to pull the meat from the grill a little before it reaches its desired temperature. Unless you have considerable experience gauging the doneness of meat by eye or touch, you’ll want to use a meat thermometer to ensure that these unusually thick steaks have in fact reached the desired temperature. The Italians eat their beef rare, or 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature. Most North Americans prefer medium rare, 130-140 degrees.  

As soon as the meat has settled, carve on the diagonal into long slices of half an inch or less. As you near the bone, the meat becomes leaner and the slices will of necessity become straighter and smaller. Different people may prefer different parts, or give each guest some of each section for the optimal blend of meat and fat. 

Suggested sides from Anne Applebaum's and Danielle (Crittenden) Frum's cookbook, "From a Polish Country House Kitchen."

  1. Grandpa Ben's Cucumber Salad

Serves 4 to 6. 

2 large seedless English cucumbers
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs chopped fresh dill
2 tbs white wine vinegar
1 ice cube
Salt and freshly ground pepper 

Peel the cucumbers. Slice them as thinly as you can with a knife, or use a mandoline (the thinner and more translucent they are, the more elegant the salad). Put in a medium bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients including the ice cube. Allow the cucumbers to marinate in the refrigerator for about one hour. Taste, adjust with salt and pepper if necessary, and serve. 

  1. Beet, Cherry, and Garlic Salad

Serves 4 to 6. 

2/3 lb smallish red beets
1/3 lb sour cherries, halved and pitted
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
For the dressing:
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp grapeseed or other very light oil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.  
Wash and trim the beets and wrap them in foil. (Depending on the size of the beets, you can put three and four together in foil packages.) Place them in a shallow roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until they feel soft when pierced through the foil, but are still firm enough to be grated or sliced. Remove from the oven, open up the foil packets, and let cool. Slip off the skins (they should rub off easily). Cut the beets into thin strips or else grate coarsely. 
Make the dressing: Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. 
When ready to serve, put the beets, cherries, onion, and garlic in a medium bowl and toss with the dressing. Serve at room temperature. 

III. New Potato and Yellow Bean Salad 

Serves 6. 

2 lb small yellow or white new potatoes, with their skins on, thickly sliced
1 lb yellow beans, trimmed
Juice of one lemon
2 tbs Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh dill

Boil the potatoes in a saucepan filled with salted water to cover until soft but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Boil the beans separately in salted water, about five minutes, until tender but not falling apart. Drain and rinse under cold water. 

In a salad bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly dribble in the olive oil, whisking continuously until the mixture is emulsified. Toss the potatoes and beans in the dressing, add the dill, and toss again. Serve at room temperature.

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