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Project: deli October 1, 2010

Posted by Peeps in Cooking, Food, random stuff.

Another Summer has gone.  And did I do anything of the things I wanted to accomplish?  Of course not.  I still have some time to make sure the freezer has a good supply of barbecue, without going overboard.

But there was one project that I wanted to attempt that I finally got the chance to do.  I made my own pastrami.

Have you ever had a really good pastrami sandwich?  From a serious deli?  For far too many years, the companies that make pastrami have been bowing to the pressure that comes from the health craze.  They’ve taken most of the fat away.  Pastrami is supposed to have fat.  It’s part of what it is.

There’s a pretty decent deli not far from here that had the stuff I was looking for for so long.  And it was mighty good, too.  But it was about $17.00 a pound.  And I’m sorry, but I am not going to spend that kind of money just to have a sandwich.  Not now, not ever.

But I recalled that I’d seen directions for making pastrami at home in my copy of Charcuterie.  And I finally got up the nerve to try.
To make pastrami, you start with beef brisket. I’ve seen it various places at various prices. But our local Walmart frequently has it. At $1.96 per pound for a whole brisket. Sweet. I got one that was about ten pounds.
Now, a brisket is divided into two parts. There’s the “flat cut” and the “point”. The point is much thicker and fattier. The flat cut is leaner and more uniform in size and thickness. The book didn’t specify which part to use for pastrami, so I cut the brisket in half and used both.
I made the pickling spice mix according the directions. Then I made up the brine used to cure the meat. And realized I have a problem. I didn’t have a container big enough to hold all the meat and brine. And even if I did, it wouldn’t fit in the fridge. So, I got out a cooler.
It wasn’t a perfect arrangement, but it worked. I bag of ice went in to keep everything cold, and that was that.
The brisket is supposed to stay in the brine for three days. We added a few of those freezer packs after the first day and rotated them to make sure everything stayed cool.
After three days, you remove the brisket, rinse it and dry it completely. And throw away the brine. It’s done its job. If you stop at this point, you have corned beef. Which is not a bad thing to have, really. But that’s not what I wanted.
For it to become pastrami, it needs two more things.
The first thing is to take coriander seeds and black pepper corns and lightly toast them in a dry skillet. Then put them into a spice grinder and whir them just enough so the spices are cracked, not powdered. The spices are then rubbed onto the brisket.
Your last step is smoking the brisket. It stays in the smoker until it registers 150 degrees. Don’t use too much wood, you don’t want to overwhelm the other flavors.
A couple hours later, I was done. I had just under ten pounds of pastrami. It looked right.
The next day, I took it all to a friend who has a restaurant. He lets me use his meat slicer whenever I make bacon, and was kind enough to slice it all for me.
I tried a slice when I got home, and it wasn’t bad at all. Matter of fact, it was pretty damn good. But it wasn’t quite perfect.
Michael Ruhlman, Charcuterie’s author, says that the way to enjoy pastrami is to steam it gently until it’s fall apart tender. And I know that’s it’s always better hot. So, Toys and I decided to have sandwiches for dinner one night.
We made macaroni salad to go with our sandwiches. The pastrami went into the steamer basket of our rice cooker for about an hour. After that, it was a matter of piling it on rye bread with some good mustard (I’m nothing if not a traditionalist).
It was fantastic! Falling apart meat, tender beyond belief, a little fat to add flavor, a hint of smoke, the odd bite of black pepper. This was some of the best pastrami I’ve ever had. And it took so little effort.
And I should have enough time to make one more batch for the freezer. Because I can’t imagine going all Winter without pastrami now that I have access to the good stuff.



1. Anne - October 1, 2010

You two are enough to make me an ex-vegetarian. Dang, that looks tasty!!

Peeps - October 4, 2010

I would be very proud and happy to help you with that, thanks.

2. judy - October 2, 2010

Oh my, that makes my mouth water! Good job. Haven’t been to a good deli in YEARS. Enjoy.

Peeps - October 4, 2010

We will, I’m sure. We’ll probably make a corned beef over the winter. Just to stay in practice, you know.

3. Monday Musings: 12.27.2010 Edition « Dark Side of the Fridge - December 27, 2010

[…] – We’ve got a bunch of pastrami in the freezer, and I picked up some rye bread at the market, so it only makes sense, during the […]

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