We’re only five months into the year-long series of Charcutepalooza challenges, and I have already developed a history of cooking and writing about the subject of a challenge months before it is announced. Bacon? Duck prosciutto? Been there, done that, sometimes twice. It happened again today with the announcement of the May challenge – grind meat and make sausage – which, as luck would have it, I had already done.
But sometimes I get lucky. When I visited my butcher to buy brisket for the corned beef challenge, he hauled out an entire fifteen-pound primal. He told me the first cut (the thinner end) was the traditional cut for corned beef, and that the other half would be perfect for pastrami. I had him trim the fat and split the primal, leaving me with two six-pound slabs of beef for brining. I already knew that the thicker cut would become pastrami, because I still had fond memories of viande fumée – smoked meat.
I had guessed that the April challenge would involve hot smoking, so I brined both of my brisket cuts simultaneously, knowing that one would be spending time on my smoker. As St. Ruhlman explains in The Holy Book:
Pastrami differs from corned beef in two main ways: it’s smoked and it’s coated with a combination of coriander seeds and black peppercorns. Other than that, it’s corned beef under a smoky crust.
I followed the recipe, converting a magnificent slab of beef into a brined and crusted proto-pastrami awaiting its date with smoke.
Ruhlman explains that traditional pastrami is first cold-smoked, then hot smoked. I emailed him to ask how much cold smoking was required, the answer came from Brian Polcyn: “Two hours cold smoke then hot until proper internal temp is met.” I had explored my cold-smoking options – the simplest of which is the method used by my colleague at Cookblog – before settling on this simple yet effective device:
I applied the two hours of cold smoke before switching to hot.
While I waited, I baked a loaf of caraway rye using the recipe from the Bread Baking Basics iPad app.
Once off the smoker, I steamed the pastrami in the oven for three hours, winding up with this:
My deli slicer hadn’t arrived yet, so I tried as best as I could to make thin slices…
…which I piled onto the sliced rye and served with kosher garlic dills.
The sandwich was very tasty, but the thick meat slices made it too chewy. I decided to wait until I had my slicer before my second attempt, which I served to the same crew that made the trip to Schwartz’s. This was the original smoked meat sandwich:
and this was my interpretation:
I know my bread was better, and I think I matched the quality of their meat, although my slices were definitely fattier than “medium.” As they did in Montreal, my panel of judges wolfed down their sandwiches, which I take as a hearty endorsement of my charcuterie hebraique.
Homemade pastrami is so much better that what I can get around here (at least in Boston, elsewhere your mileage may vary) that I’m considering having it on hand all of the time. I almost always have room in my smoker; with a little planning I can multitask and have a fridge full of smoky goodies.