I am not going to go on and on about Katz’s deli again. It is enough to merely point out that if you want REAL pastrami then you must go to a REAL delicatessen. Which brings me to the reason I chose to make this dish. Almost everything that is labeled pastrami in an average market, deli and (and this pains me) every outlet in Israel is not pastrami. In fact if you wander into an Israeli supermarket and ask for pastrami you will be shown to a cooler filled with pastrama a term that is attached to any cooked and sliced meat- much like “ham” is used in the U.S. As for the American stuff, it is usually some version of roast beef with some sort of pepper spice rub on the outside. It bears as much resemblance to real pastrami as a Carl Buddig product does to whole cuts of meat.
Now, pastrami is not a quick thing to make. It is a minimum 5 day process that some extend out to two weeks. Your first decision is whether to use a brine or dry cure. A dry cure is more traditional, but a brine cure will impart the same flavor and also boost the liquid content for a more moist cut of meat. The second choice is whether to seek beef plate or use the more commonly available brisket. The third choice is about smoking. You can in fact smoke without a smoker. By using an oven smoking bag or liquid smoke you can get the same flavor as a smoker. Since I really wanted to play with a smoker, and don’t have one, I waited until I was planning a trip to my parents so I could use theirs.
More after the break.
5 lb of brisket
1 gallon of water
450 g kosher salt (est. 2 cups)
100 g sugar (est. 1/2 cup)
25 g (1 oz) pink salt
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbls pickling spice
2 tbls toasted peppercorns
Combine everything except the peppercorns and the meat in a large pot. Heat until the salt and sugar dissolve. Let cool and then chill. Submerge the brisket in it and shove it to the back of your fridge for at least 5 days.
Remove brisket, rinse and pat dry. Crack peppercorns and rub over meat. Place in a smoker for 4-5 hours and then wrap in foil and transfer to a 300F oven for 3 more hours or when the internal temp has reached 200F for an hour (essential to breaking down the tough collagen into gelatin).
When ready to serve heat by placing in a covered pan with a small amount of water (traditionally this cut is steamed) and slice by hand across the grain of the meat. Serve on rye with sharp mustard.