What Exactly Is Steak Pizzaiola?

You may think you know about every Italian recipe out there, but there's probably one that hasn't crossed your radar: Steak pizzaiola, also known as carne pizzaiola. It's not a steak pizza, and there's no pepperoni or cheese. So what exactly is steak pizzaiola? It's a delicious main dish made of a steak that is simmered in a red sauce until tender and flavorful (per Food Network). 

The meat is braised in this recipe. Braising simply means to cook at a low temperature in some kind of liquid (per MasterClass). Pot roast is an example of braised meat. The steak is first seared in a hot pan to brown it and add great flavor, then the liquid is added and the whole thing is simmered, on the stovetop or in the oven, until tender. It is then sliced and served with the sauce, perhaps alongside some pasta or vegetables.

How did this dish begin? What was it in the Italian kitchen that prompted this classic and well-flavored recipe?

Cooking cheaper cuts of beef

Steak pizzaiola came into being when Italian cooks wanted to cook less tender cuts of meat, which were cheaper (and still are), per Culinarian. And red sauce, or tomato sauce, was the natural cooking vehicle because, well, after all, it's Italy! This recipe is a great way to turn a cheaper cut of beef into a dish that is velvety and soft.

The less tender beef steaks include beef chuck steak, top round steak, sirloin tip, eye of round, bottom round, and top blade, per Kansas Beef.org. According to Iowa State University Extension, they come from the parts of the animal that are involved in movement, such as the shoulder and hind end. 

These hard-working muscles, which is what beef is, have more connective tissue that is tough. That type of protein takes a long time to break down and dissolve. Connective tissue is made from collagen, which eventually degrades into gelatin over long cooking times (per Martha Stewart). This thickens the juices and adds rich flavor.

Making steak pizzaiola

Whatever cut you choose to make this dish with, be sure it's well-marbled. Marbling is fat, and fat provides flavor, according to MasterClass. If there is a lot of fat on the outside of the steak, you can trim it off. The steak can be pounded to make it more tender, per Food Network, or not; that's up to you.

According to Chef Bily Parisi, you start by searing the steak in olive oil, then you remove it from the pan and add vegetables if you'd like. Onions, garlic, and bell peppers are good choices. Add the sauce, either out of a bottle or from scratch, then return the steak to the pan. Bring it back to a simmer, add the lid, and simmer for a few minutes if it's a tender cut like sirloin, or a couple of hours if you used a tougher cut, per Martha Stewart, until the steak is very tender. You can remove the steak from the sauce and slice it, and serve it with the sauce on the side, or you can cut the steak into pieces right in the sauce and serve it over pasta.

You can try other types of braised steak recipes too, such as a slow cooker Cuban braised beef or beer-braised beef. They're all delicious.