Many years ago I visited New York and in a bar wanted sandwiches. Thinking of England I ordered two sandwiches, ham and pastrami on rye. The barman looked at me – “god bless your appetite sir”. Both came with two pieces of bread, sandwiching what looked like 6 inches of meat. Of course as a matter of principle I ate the lot, and the taste and quality of the meat stayed with me.
True pastrami is made with beef brisket, sadly no longer a cheap cut. I bought a piece of the 3 week hung Rushbury farm beef. The first task was to remove most of the fat, separating the brisket into the two pieces. The reason for the removal of the fat is to allow the brine to penetrate the meat. Pastrami is a form of salt beef, and the cure mixture has to be right. The right proportion of salt to water to meat. The rest of the brine ingredients include the usual suspects: peppercorns , garlic, bay. Once the brine has been boiled and cooled the meat sits in it for 3 weeks. During this time I checked it every few days. The brining is a preserving process so chemical reactions are taking place. After 2 weeks lots of fine particles of meat appeared to have dissolved into the brine, and small amounts of mould appeared on the surface. I took the meat out and washed it, boiled the brine and strained it through muslin. Everything smelled just fine.
Making the salt beef into pastrami means smoking the meat slowly for several hours. I decided at the last minute to use the smaller piece of brisket to make corned beef. The salt beef is simply simmered in boiling water for an hour per pound. Taking it out and tasting it is always so exciting. It looked and tasted nothing like the mushed up fatty stuff I knew from my youth; this was lean, textured and wonderfully tasty.
But this was just the side show. The main attraction had one more process before smoking. The salt beef is covered with a rub. I could tell you the exact ingredients for my rub , but then I would have to kill you. Crushed coriander seed, peppercorns, and paprika do play a part however. Covered in this dark gritty layer the meat is ready for the smoker.
Smoking is a whole other blog, but the key is to smoke at a low temperature for many hours. The meat has to reach 165 F inside, then it is done. After 3 hours in the smoker it was not quite done so I finished it off wrapped in foil in the oven for another hour.
The meat is tender, smoky, only very slightly salty, and quite delicious.
I am no New Yorker but knew that Pastrami demanded rye bread, so baked a loaf later the same day.