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.