So: you can’t have surf without turf, apparently … and this weekend, the store has some fantastic Black Angus bone-in rib-eye (Delmonico) steaks to go with those jumbo shrimp and monster 10-14 ounce lobster tails we mentioned earlier. Fortunately, I happened to have a little taste of Italy handy by way of a recipe for Florentine steak served with a rich garlic-herb butter. Florentines, of course, are famous for this steak, and depending on whom you ask, the cut used might be some really wonderful sirloin from Chianina steer, or a T-bone or Porterhouse. Frankly, I don’t see why you couldn’t do with with a bone-in rib-eye or, for that matter, with a bone-in New York strip steak. Heck, with a Porterhouse, you’re halfway to a strip anyway. ;D
Florentine steak, though, is typically made and served very rare. That wouldn’t be a problem for me and some other foodies I know; but I’ve noticed a really disturbing trend at the store: most folks ask for their steaks to be cooked well done. OUCH. Instant way to make shoe leather out of a beautiful piece of meat and throw away good money to boot. Far too many people overcook their steaks, and then they wonder why the steaks aren’t tender. For shame! There are good reasons to cook poultry or pork thoroughly so that no pink remains inside, but steak, veal and lamb are another matter. If you’ve never eaten a steak that doesn’t have any pink left in it, you literally don’t know what you’re missing. It’s like overcooking vegetables – it may be fine to smother the dickens out of collard or mustard greens or even carrots, but good fresh green beans and sugar snap peas deserve better treatment. Just as you resist the Southern temptation to cook the life out of your veggies, don’t cook the life out of your red meat, either. End of sermon.
Incidentally, chefs in many of the best restaurants will simply refuse to cook a steak any further than medium, and they won’t cook it over high heat, either – for good reason. Beef takes time to develop flavor and brown properly, and that means medium heat no higher than 375 degrees F. I’ll quote chef Tom Colicchio from the popular TV food show Top Chef here (and he’s not alone on this point): when it comes to roasting or to making a great steak, high heat is NOT your friend – no matter how many grillmasters think otherwise. Good searing comes from controlling the heat properly and not moving the meat too soon. The oil and meat in your pan should sizzle gently, not spatter and spit all over the place – heat that’s too low won’t brown, and heat that’s too high or uncontrolled will make the juices caramelize too soon and burn.
Florentine steak is classically pan roasted or broiled over an open fire in a kitchen fireplace, unless you happen to have an all-weather garden with an outdoor grill. Most kitchens don’t have fireplaces arranged for cooking, and many folks don’t live in climates where they can grill outdoors all year long – so I’m giving you the instructions for a steak the way most Florentines get it today: pan roasted. Don’t balk; this actually works pretty well, and many chefs prefer roasting to broiling. Better still, if you have the patience, you can have a mouth-watering steak any time of year. The garlic butter is a savory finishing touch, and you’ll have plenty left over for other uses (cover the leftover butter tightly and refrigerate).
The difference between you and a professional chef when it comes to making steak is that a pro knows how to control the heat. Use your meat thermometer a few times during the pan roasting to prevent overcooking, and aim for an internal temperature of no higher than 125–130 degrees F., then remember to let the meat sit for 10-15 minutes on the platter under a loosely tented piece of foil before serving (that ensures the juices will absorb back into the meat and the meat will stay juicy; the meat will also finish cooking on the plate). Also, don’t use a nonstick skillet – use an aluminum-core or copper-core stainless steel pan or a cast-iron skillet, with only a tablespoon of oil per steak. At the correct temperature, that’s all the oil you’ll need.
Florentine Steak with Garlic & Herb Butter serves 2
1 stick (½ cup) of sweet unsalted European-style butter, at room temperature
½ cup original-style Smart Balance margarine, at room temperature
½ cup crushed or finely minced garlic
3 tbsp. garlic powder (not garlic salt)
½ tsp. ground savory
½ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. ground coriander
¾ cup fresh minced flat-leaf Italian parsley
3 tbsp. grated imported Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. grated imported Pecorino Romano cheese
1 lb. rib-eye (Delmonico) or New York strip steak, 1–1½ inches thick
Freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary leaves
Good-quality olive oil for the pan
A pinch of sea salt, to taste
Note: you can also use the herb butter to sauté some shrimp and have your own surf and turf dinner.
- Make the garlic butter in advance, if possible. Mince the parsley; set aside. Cream together the butter and Smart Balance with a hand mixer on slow speed; add the crushed garlic and dry seasonings, whipping at slow speed for 1 minute, then add the grated cheese and minced parsley and whip at medium speed for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape the herb butter from the beaters back into the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the butter mix for now.
- If you bought a boneless steak, cut the steak in half so that you get two thick, roughly squarish pieces of meat. This helps to ensure that the meat will brown properly without overcooking inside (if you bought a bone-in steak, skip this step). Season both sides of the steak with freshly ground pepper and Kosher salt, not table salt – Kosher salt is more porous and less salty and will season the meat more evenly without oversalting it. Save the sea salt for later.
- Warm up the pan first on medium heat before adding the oil; the oil should glide across the surface easily without spitting. A drop of water or a little sliver of garlic should sizzle gently when dropped on the oiled surface, not spatter wildly. If it spatters, reduce the heat and wait a moment for the pan to cool a bit, then try again. Once the pan and oil are the right temperature, place the seasoned steak on the pan and reduce the heat very slightly; let the meat sizzle gently without moving it until the first side is browned, about 3 minutes (use a timer). Turn the steaks over and cook for 3 minutes more. For steaks cooked medium, aim for an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees F. (120 for medium rare).
- Using tongs, prop the steaks on their sides to brown the fat along the edges and cook for about 2 minutes more, then return steaks to the first side. Add 1 tablespoon of garlic-herb butter to pan and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary; swirl butter around the pan and continue cooking on medium heat for 2 minutes, then remove pan from heat and check steak for doneness (if still under 125 degrees, cook for 1 minute more, then check again). Arrange the steak on a platter, pour pan drippings over the top, sprinkle on a pinch of sea salt, and cover loosely with a tented sheet of foil. Let the steak sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with an extra teaspoon of herb butter atop of each serving, plus grilled asparagus or a sautéed vegetable such as green beans, sugar snap peas or sliced zucchini, and a roasted red pepper salad in a sherry-vinegar vinaigrette. Let the steak be the star, and enjoy!
Wine suggestion: If you’re sticking with the Italian theme, the best wine to drink with hearty roasted red meat is the noble Amarone; you really should try it at least once with a dish worthy of it. If that’s a little too rich for your wallet, however, any of the better super-Tuscan reds will do. Super-Tuscans are Northern Italian blends of the Sangiovese grape with other high-quality reds like Cabernet; you can expect to pay about $15 to $35 per bottle for a reasonably priced one. To get a good value for the money, look for a rating of at least 90 from the Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator.