The juxtaposition of Israel’s Memorial Day (Yesterday) and Independence Day (Today) is one that is much commented on and extremely difficult for many Israelis on a practical level. On the one hand, in a country of this tiny size, where family, alumni, employment and military unit networks are all closely intertwined, which has fought for it’s very existence year in, year out, almost everyone has lost someone; a family member, friend or colleague, in some sort of military action or terror attack. It’s a day of solemnity with appropriate music on the radio, ceremonies and cemetery visits for the bereaved. From the national mourning, there is an immediate switch to rejoicing as we begin the celebrations for independence day. The Jewish people, having been exiled from their land, kept alive the dream of once again “being a free people in our land” for 2000 years. In 1948 the dream came to fruition with the declaration of independence and today we celebrate our 66th year as a modern thriving state.
And how do we celebrate this day you might ask? In the same way we celebrate everything – with food! Traditionally, family and friends get together in a crowded park around a “mangal” a grill of some sort and cook a variety of items, most normally meats and eat them alongside salads, pita and hummus. Every Israeli alpha male (of which there are a huge number) considers himself to be expert in finding an appropriate spot to situate the grill, get the flames going, (with or without firelighters but always with the aid of a “nafnaf” – some sort of improvised apparatus for fanning the coals) selecting and the piece de resistance – cooking copious amounts of food to perfection.
We keep it simple – every year a group of friends get together in the same friends’ garden. Everyone brings meat for the grill, drinks and some sort of side. The ever growing number of kids has their fill of hot dogs and chicken wings, run around and play and watch movies, whilst the adults sit around the garden and chat, drink beer and wine and mainly, enjoy the meat (cooked on a gas grill because it’s far easier than coals).
I decided to bring steak but wanted to do get something different. I went in search of a butcher’s steak – the name is supposedly because it was a little strip of deliciousness that the butcher used to keep it for himself. Also known as Onglet or Hangar steak the following description from Serious Eats is so good that I had to quote it in it’s entirety!
“Hanger is like that indie band that hasn’t quite hit top-40 mainstream status yet, but is big enough that everybody and their mother’s heard about it.”
It’s not easy to find – I got mine from a little old guy on Hashazif St in Machane Yehuda from whom I’ve bought in the past and who seems to supply a bunch of the other butchers. A friend from the restaurant business told me that Rafael is a reliable source but even he was out of it in the run up to the grill fest. It will cost about the same as good entrecote, ribeye or sirloin but I think that it goes a lot further as you don’t have to buy a whole steak per person. I bought a little over a kilo (2 1/2 pounds) which was two whole pieces – each piece has a membrane down the middle which, when trimmed, yields two long strips of loosely textured muscle. Unless you particularly enjoy doing it yourself like I do, it’s easiest to have your butcher remove the unnecessary fat and membranes.
I prepared a basic marinade of garlic, olive oil, cider vinegar, black pepper and herbs (I had rosemary and thyme to hand) and left it for 3 hours because that’s the time that I had – longer would do it no harm at all.
Cook it on a high flame to medium rare or medium – it’s not good to rare and anything beyond medium on any steak means that the animal has died in vain.
Let it rest and slice against the grain as otherwise it will be stringy and chewy. It has a delicious beefy taste and was such a big hit today that I think that it might become a regular feature.