Steamed and sliced
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.
When Jews make sausage
“Send a Salami, to your boy in the Army” that sign still hangs over the meat counter at Katz’s deli. Only in New York could those two words rhyme. I love salami, I love its texture, its fatty mouth feel and its subtle flavors. A good salami is dry cured and hung for weeks until it is a wrinkled shadow of it former self. Then and only then should it be sliced and enjoyed with a nice spicy brown mustard.
Of course for the home cook a dry cured sausage of any sort poses several hurdles. The first is obtaining the curing salts and bacterial cultures that ensure you don’t feed yourself botulism toxins. The second is having a dark spot that stays at 80% humidity and 60 degrees for 3 weeks. Perhaps in June I will go score a small fridge from the students vacating Unit 2 at Cal but until then I have to get my sausage fix differently.
Enter the hot smoke. A process of cooking at very low temperature (about 220 F) using wood smoke. You can also do the same thing without smoke, in Kansas City its called BBQ. I am trying two things at once, making an Italian style salami using a small amount of pink salt to preserve the color and give it that distinct cured flavor and also using a hot smoke cooking method (albeit without the smoke) to bypass the long curing process.
I had been wanting to make some more sausage for a few weeks, but was stymied by my inability to find a good source of beef fat. I had been to a number of meat markets with no luck, but then decided to go to the main branch of a local grocery store chain where they have a good supply of fresh meat. I asked one of the butchers and he was happy to supply me with about 4 lbs of beef trimmings and that yielded a little more than 2.5 pound of good clean diced beef fat. The best thing, no charge for the fat.
Recipe after the break
Rinsed and waiting for fresh brine
Pickles are a deli staple. My favorite pickle memory is my then two year old son scarfed down a whole tray of sliced pickle spears in a Chicago deli while we waited for our sandwiches. He finished the small tray and looked up at us and asked if there were more- truly a sour tooth.
In any event, having always been a fan of pickled veggies I was delighted to come across a recipe in Michael Ruhlmans masterful tome Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. This first batch turned out a bit on the salty side so I am soaking them in fresh water for a day or two to knock down the salt content. But having said that this is one of those cooking projects that requires only patience.
More after the break.