Fra Diavolo Variations
There are two major variations of Fra Diavolo sauce. One is made with olive oil, butter, garlic and crushed dried red chile pepper. The butter olive oil sauce version usually accompanies shrimp or lobster.
I used to sell lobster fra diavolo at a classy Northern Italian restaurant many years ago. This entrée is made by splitting large lobster tails in half and sautéing them quickly in butter, olive oil and garlic. Crushed dried red pepper and crushed black pepper are added when the lobster is halfway cooked. After the peppers are added, the temperature is reduced and small splash of dry white wine or chicken broth is added, then the liquid is evaporated to finish the lobster.
Steak Fra Diavolo is sometimes prepared with a butter olive oil crushed red pepper sauce, just like lobster fra diavolo, but the spicy "a la minute" tomato sauce version of Steak Fra Diavolo is more popular. Which version of fra diavolo is applied to a steak just depends on an Italian American chef's preference or interpretation of the recipe.
Fra Diavolo Origins
Fra diavolo is an Italian American creation, but most chefs in Italy know the recipe and its variations. I have worked with Italian chefs who literally just got off a plane from Italy and had never been to America before, yet the chefs cooked Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo on their first night in a restaurant like they knew the recipe by heart. This goes to show that Italian chefs worldwide do communicate Italian cuisine trends with each other, wherever they happen to be.
Fra Diavolo literally translates to "Brother Devil." The word "brother" in the translation refers to a monk or a priest. Fra Diavolo was the nickname of Michele Pezza, who was a heroic Italian guerilla leader who resisted the French occupation of the Kingdom of Naples in the late 1700's. Michele Pezza often disguised himself as an Italian priest when reconnoitering in French army territory and this is how he earned the name Fra Diavolo.
Michele Pezza is symbolized as the last cavalier in many of the works of the French writer Alexandre Dumas and there is an opera that is named Fra Diavolo. An Italian guerilla freedom fighter, a priest who was a spy and a cavalier! This romantic opera hero is associated with the words "fra diavolo" and this is why Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is a nice speciale del giorno for a Valentines Day menu.
There really is no single definitive Steak Fra Diavolo recipe. Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo is basically an entrée that allows a chef or sauté cook to boast their own cooking skills and their mastery of hot chile pepper flavor balance. Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is usually a speciale del giorno that is meant to impress guests that enjoy spicy Italian flavors.
Earlier in this article, I described how lobster fra diavolo is made and I mentioned that steak fra diavolo is usually made with a tomato sauce that is cooked to order. I apprenticed with many Italian chefs during my career. Every Italian chef that prepared steak fra diavolo seemed to have their own interpretation of the recipe and each chef's interpretation involved showing their finesse in creating flavor. Some Italian chefs added dry white wine, while others added dry red wine. Some added extra garlic. Some added sage or oregano. Some used fresh overripe local tomatoes and some used canned tomatoes imported from Italy. Some used crushed dried red pepper and some used fresh red chile pepper.
Today's recipe features a Kansas City Strip Steak that is prepare Fra Diavolo style. A Kansas City Strip Steak is a loin steak that has a portion of the bone attached. A New York Sirloin Strip Steak is boneless. Many steak enthusiasts tend to prefer steaks that have the bone attached, because more flavor is created. There is some kind of a primal instinct that is satisfied by carving steak meat off of the bone and this adds to the appeal.
The peppers that I chose to use in the fra diavolo sauce were red Fresno Peppers. Fresno peppers are about the same size as a jalapeño, but they look more like a large Tuscan Pepper. Fresno peppers have a little bit more spicy heat than a jalapeño or a Tuscan Pepper. The flavor of a Fresno Chile Pepper tastes like a definitive classic hot red chile pepper. There are no fruit or tobacco flavor undertones and there is no green vegetable flavor in this breed of chile pepper. The flavor of red fresno peppers is perfect for making Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo.
Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo:
This recipe yields 1 serving! Like many Italian saute recipes, everything is cooked in one pan.
Step 1: Select a 12 to 14 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak.
Season the steak with sea salt and black pepper.
Step 2: Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
Add the strip steak.
Add 1 whole red fresno pepper.
*Sauté the pepper, till a few golden brown highlights appear and the pepper becomes tender.
Set the whole pepper aside and keep it warm on a stove top.
*Sauté the steak on both sides, till it is almost cooked to the preferred state of doneness. (For example, if medium rare is preferred, cook the steak rare at this stage.)
Step 3: Remove the steak from the pan and set it aside. Keep the steak warm on a stove top.
Drain off any excess grease from the pan.
Step 4: Place the pan over medium/medium low heat.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Add 2 cloves of thin sliced garlic.
Sauté till the garlic becomes a light golden color.
Step 5: Add a few onion strips. (about 1/5 cup)
Add 1 teaspoon of minced shallot.
Add 1 seeded diced red fresno pepper.
Sauté till the onions start to turn clear in color.
Step 6: Add 1/2 cup of dry red wine.
Add 1/2 cup of beef broth.
Simmer and reduce the liquid, till only about 1/2 cup remains.
Step 7: Add 1/2 cup of imported Italian tomato puree.
Add 1/4 cup of imported crushed Italian San Marzano Tomatoes.
Add 1 small pinch of ground sage.
Add 1 small pinch of oregano.
Add 1 small pinch of basil.
Add 2 to 3 pinches of crushed black peppercorns.
Add sea salt to taste.
Step 8: Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin tomato sauce consistency.
Step 9: Add 2 pinches of minced curly leaf parsley.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
Step 10: Return the strip steak to the pan.
Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.
Step 11: Remove the pan from the heat.
Place the steak on a plate.
Spoon the sauce over the steak and onto the plate.
Place the sautéed whole fresno pepper on top of the steak.
Garnish with a small lemon crown that is pressed in chopped curly leaf parsley.
Fra Diavolo is one of the tastiest steak preparations that there is!