The most ridiculous food I ever tried!
Ridiculous, because you can get it everywhere and you probably think of it as a simple, deli staple. So, why make it at home? Ridiculous, because it takes forever and conventional wisdoms says that it takes decades of experience to get it right. If I would have known what I know now…..
So, what’s completely “pedestrian” and yet so difficult to make? I bet you ate it lots of times without giving it a second thought - but how often was it “great” or “memorable”? What’s that food? You probably correctly guessed, Pastrami. Specifically, a Pastrami sandwich. I took many trips down to Manhattan’s East Village to enjoy an unrivaled Pastrami sandwich at Katz’s and it turned into a lasting appreciation of pastrami.
So, after all these years of enjoying pastrami (btw, warm, melted cheese on rye) but never thinking about how it’s prepared, I accidentally stumbled into actually making it.
A neighbor, Allan of Renz Ranches, on one of the last really, really big properties down here in Santa Clara County (the Northern end is highly dense Silicon Valley, whereas the Southern end is still agricultural) raises cattle. And how cool is it to see his cattle roam around happily on the pasture next door! Allan typically sold his Angus beef to restaurants, but due to the pandemic, he offered our neighborhood his healthy, grass-fed Angus beef in manageable portions (of course, he would be happy to sell half a cow but I would need a walk-in freezer ---- maybe, convert a kids bedroom??).
So I snapped up a few pounds of hamburger meat, a few short ribs, ribeye steaks, a flank steak, and a brisket. I always thought I should learn how to make a decent brisket, because whenever I had brisket, it was typically disappointing. Why would the meat always be so dry or tough (often both)? I figured, I can barbecue, I can make a decent tri-tip, so how difficult can it be. For a recipe, I turned to my go-to website for anything grill related. BTW, Meathead of amazingribs.com goes beyond recipes. He discusses the science behind each aspect of grilling. I find it very helpful to understand not just what to do but why.
After going through the various brisket recipes, I figured, I will go with a corned beef recipe since curing the brisket will increase the chances (significantly) that it does not become dry (corned beef). His recipe calls for 5-7 days of wet-curing, optionally using pickling spices. So, in for a penny, in for a pound, I added the pickling spices. This turned out to be the first major symphonic workout of our organic Five Continent Spices (I used 9 for the curing alone).
Okay, so I am making corned beef. Great, now what?
Since Meathead publishes a pastrami recipe “Close to Katz’s” (which I love as mentioned before - Close to Katz's), I decided to go for it. That adds more spices, half-day of soaking, 2 days of rub absorption, hours of smoking, and eventually steaming.
So, our brisket occupied one fridge level for nine days. And that's only the prep time. Then the actual cooking started. Smoking it 6 hours, jury-rigging a steamer for the large slab of meat, another couple hours of steaming, led to a beautiful piece of locally raised, healthy, grass-fed, Angus pastrami. And it tasted as it looked – Great. Not dry. Not tough. As a bonus, the kids loved it too. Now, when can I take over the shelf in our fridge again?