Sunday, June 20, 2010


I made my second batch (ever!) of pastrami last week and emerged from the process thrilled by the quality of the final product. It tastes exactly like the pastrami I ate as a teenaged visitor to the Lower East Side of New York City when it was still loaded with delis and appetizing shops run by first generation Eastern European immigrants.

Pastrami is very easy to make, but it takes a relatively long time and requires specialized equipment in the form of some type of hot smoker. If one removes the step of raising, slaughtering and butchering the cattle it begins with the construction of a cooked brine. Once the brine has cooled the meat is submerged in it and allowed to sit until the brine has worked its way all the way to the center of the meat. With brines that do not contain nitrite, it's often difficult to determine when it has been fully cured. However, when nitrite is present (as it was in this recipe) you can tell how much the brine has diffused throughout the muscle by paying attention to the change is color of the tissue. Since nitrite indirectly causes the serum protein myoglobin to reflect red light, you can tell how far the brine has penetrated by cutting in at the thickest region of the meat and seeing how much of the meat has turned from the brownish-purplish color of raw beef to bright pinkish red typical of cured "red" meats.

I brined this batch of brisket under refrigeration for 7 days before it was fully cured. After removing it from the brine and letting it drain I patted it dry with paper toweling then dry rubbed it with a 1:1 mixture of cracked black pepper and coriander seed. Finally, I smoked it in the Bradley smoker just under four hours and after it had reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is another step involved in producing pastrami that is ready to eat but we let our customers do the braising that renders it tender and ready to be turned into Rubens or plain old pastrami on rye.

I know George Cohen  for whom I worked as a soda jerk in the luncheonette he ran with his wife Hannah the 1960's, and who taught me to take pastrami and egg creams and half sour pickles (which Hannah made in the back of the shop) very seriously would be impressed to know that I'm doing this.


Rachel Luxemburg said...

What I miss even more than the meats of my youth (tongue, pastrami, etc) are the amazing full-sour pickles.

The processed crap from the major food manufacturers isn't even worth tasting and the real thing is harder and harder to get these days, although the canned pickles from Israel are pretty damn close. I wish they were easier to find though.

Bob del Grosso said...

What exactly are "full sour pickles?"
based on what I saw Hannah make and the recipes I've researched half sour's seem to be cucumbers fermented in brine seasoned with garlic and pickling spices but I can't find anything about full-sours that makes any sense. Are they fermented then vinegared?

Jon in Albany said...

I always thought the difference between half sour and sour pickles was just the length of fermenting time. Half sours brine for a few days, sours are more like a week to 10 days. I could be wrong though, wouldn't be the first time.

How do you like the Bradley? There are many who swear by them. I've flirted with the idea of getting one, but have found other cheaper, but more labor intensive ways, to smoke. Pastrami looks great.

Leah said...

I think of full sours as the equivalent of so called 'kosher pickles,' i.e. there is garlic in the brine. In my mind, half sours brine for a shorter amount of time and are crisper at the end of the day.

Speaking of pickling and fermenting, I can only imagine what a Reuben made from homemade pastrami with homemade sauerkraut might taste like. Wouldn't that be a fabulous project... :)

Scotty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scotty said...

Jon is correct. The brine is the same - it's just an issue of fermentation time. There is also one before half sours called new dills.

Jennifer S said...

It's always great to have a mentor in meat. Thanks Bob! My brisket is in brine here in Minnesota, and I plan to be smoking it on Thursday. I'll link back here when I post pics.

Bob del Grosso said...

Jon in Albany
The Bradley is great, but I would not buy it again if given a second chance. The pellets are too expensive and I am annoyed that they do not burn up completely before they are ejected. If you plan to use a smoker more than once or twice a month I would get one that uses wood chips. Chips are much cheaper, especially if you make them yourself. '

Jon in Albany said...

A lot of places screw you with cost of wood chips. I was once in a kitchen store and I must have had a puzzled expression on my face while I looked at a "special" bag of Steven Raichlen's wood chips. Someone working in the store asked if they could help. I told him I was trying to figure out how much they were charging for a cord of wood and that I was pretty sure it was obscene. He left me alone after that.