Here in Montana, you know it's summertime when you look up from your computer and you can see the big, black insects lazily drifting by your window. The hum of the air conditioner may drown out the sound of the birds, but they are there to see in all their multi-colored glory. If you can brave the insects and sit outside, an entire world slowly unfolds just past the edge of your screen. Early morning coolness is savored by one and all, as the dew kissing the grass quickly evaporates with the sunshine. The heat presses down upon your shoulders like a blanket and at moments the air seems to shimmer with the weight of it. There are a couple of prairie dogs living in a stone wall outside our bedroom window that are driving Patty to distraction. When we sit in the backyard, it's actually kind of funny to see them sneak up behind her, squeak loudly, and then race away down their hidey holes. White tail deer wander down the roads at dusk and that gorgeous, textured Montana sky provides daily inspiration.
The Fourth of July is sneaking up on us ever so steadily. Alex and I are going to lend a hand with a barbecue for the employees. We picked up hangar steaks on Saturday and he and Ben spent an hour or so butchering and marinating yesterday. They resurrected a version of the old Clio marinade from years ago. I wonder if Ken still uses it. It was the first place where I learned to cook hangar steak and it's still one of my favorite cuts of meat all these years later. I love it plainly seasoned with salt and I love that it can take on many layers of flavor and still keep it's beefiness intact. It earned its name from it's placement inside the cattle, where it is attached to the last rib and the kidney and literally hangs from the diaphragm. There is a line of membrane that runs roughly down the center and divides the meat into two. To butcher the meat, we follow the membrane to split the hangar into two pieces, remove it and any silver skin or excess fat. For more casual uses we season or marinate these pieces whole, and then sear or grill them and slice on a bias. It has a wonderful rich flavor and chewy texture. As it's many names (butcher's tender, hanging tender, hanging tenderloin) indicate, it is a very juicy and tender cut of meat when treated properly. When cooked past medium, the meat tends to become dry and somewhat game-y on the palate. For more elegant presentations we may "glue" the two pieces together for one large steak, butterfly it and roll it, or even layer it in thin slices which are again "glued" back together, cooked, and then sliced. It all depends on what we're planning to do with it. Tomorrow we're planning to pull it out of it's marinade and cook it outside on a wood burning grill.
As you may have noticed, we're planning a barbecue. The main course will be that grilled steak and there will lots of young Southerners attending. They seem to like their food simple and tasty, spicy and sweet. So if you've got any down home favorites for this holiday that you'd like to share, we'd be happy to read about them. More than that, we may use them in the employee kitchen to make some of these home sick southerners feel a bit closer to their roots. Hell, we may even use them in our kitchen (ever so slightly adjusted) because I've always been a sucker for southern food myself. We're toying with the idea of a shrimp boil to start, maybe some corn fritters, perhaps some peach pies, sweet and sour slaw, mashed potato salad, we're still tossing around ideas. So if you've got any recipes or suggestions or just great Fourth of July food stories, please leave a comment and share it with us. The kids will be working hard all day and ready for great food and relaxation by dinnertime. We can use some fresh inspirations out this way to help appease their hunger.