Toast That Tastes Like $200 Steak
The Italian dish crostini di sugo all'uso di Natale, or Christmas toast, may sound like it makes an appearance only in December. But at Solo Ciccia, part of Dario Cecchini’s mini-restaurant empire in the tiny town of Panzano in the Chianti region of Italy, it’s a menu perennial.
Cecchini is an eighth-generation butcher and something of a legend in Tuscany. His democratic take on the cow — if cooked properly, all parts are good — is borne out in this riff on a dish enjoyed by Tuscans who want to eat something celebratory during the holidays but can’t afford premium pieces of meat.
Cecchini grinds up often-discarded cuts of beef for a rich, spicy ragu, which is then ladled on top of thick slices of bread. “Luxurious,” is how he describes a good Christmas toast. “It gives people the experience of eating something more expensive."
Colby’s bistecca drippings, which costs $8, is the result of the chef tiring of tossing out fat trimmed from Chi Spacca's in-house dry-aged beef. He started obsessing about how he could use it to, as he puts it, “give someone who doesn’t want to splurge an introduction to the same burst of flavor that a $200 steak has.”
After some trial and error — he describes his first few iterations of bistecca drippings as “tasting like a really weird American ground beef taco” — Colby came up with the idea of simply roasting the fat, chopping it up, seasoning it, cooking it in rendered fat to keep it from drying out, then spooning it on top of fett’unta, or grilled bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. It’s good as a starter, but for those who prefer stopping in for a quick bite at the grill-side counter, it works as a snack too. “I definitely want it to be the poor man’s bistecca — when you take a big bite of it, it’s like you’re taking a big bite of meat,” Colyb says, adding that the name can be misleading. “It’s not really drippings of anything.”
For a dish made, in part, from actual pan remnants, there’s Manzke’s version for République, described on the menu as wood-oven pan drippings. For $5, you get pieces of crusty baguette to dunk into a small pot filled with a peppery liquid made from all manner of ingredients collected from Manzke’s kitchen: jus, melted fat, those crunchy particles that collect at the bottom of a pan after roasting meats, bacon trimmings, smears of whatever is left in a sauce pot — he even throws parts of rotisserie chickens into the mix.
It’s a dish with a flavor profile that morphs on a daily basis. Because it’s made from whatever is collected in the kitchen from the night before, the dish can evoke a juicy bird or luscious beef. “It’s all these little odds and ends,” says Manzke, who points out that it’s not geared toward picky eaters. “You have to be able to eat everything — there’s butter in it, herbs, everything we put into every stock is mixed in it. If you don’t eat pork, you shouldn’t eat it. If you don’t eat beef, you shouldn’t eat it. The only thing that’s not in it is fish.”
Like Colby, Manzke gets his inspiration partly from that post–meat carving moment when you grab a piece of bread and drag it through a beckoning pool of jus. When Manzke first started fiddling with the recipe for wood-oven pan drippings, though, he admits he went about it all wrong: buying special meat, grinding it, roasting it and capturing the drippings.
“I wasn’t happy with the taste,” he says. Then a lightbulb went off, and he began foraging in his own kitchen. “When we started adding all the real roasted things that are grilled on the wood fire or roasted on the rotisserie — and all the remains of the great sauces we make — that’s when it really came together.”
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