When I used to live in Boston, I would frequently take the bus to New York and spend the day exploring the city. Now that I’m back on the west coast, I find myself missing the busy streets of New York and of course, the food. In my last visit to New York, I went to dine at the famous Katz Deli and was blown away by the pastrami Reuben sandwich. The quality of the pastrami was phenomenal; even the wildly popular Langers in Los Angeles does not compare.
Alas, since I do not see myself going to New York any time soon, I have but no choice than to make pastrami myself. The entire process takes about 2 whole weeks, first making corned beef than turning that into pastrami. I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work just for a couple of sandwiches, but the quality? Amazing (and maybe even better than Katz’s)!
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Brisket consists of two muscles, the point muscle, and the flat muscle. If you purchase your brisket at a butcher shop, you can choose to get packer meat, which includes both muscles, or have it separated into the two muscles. It is highly recommended that you cut the meat in half to allow for a quicker cooking process.
Now if you were to make corned beef, you want to remove most of the fat, leaving only about 1/8 inch on top. However, if you are making pastrami, you want to leave the fat so that you will have a more tender and juicy sandwich. Unfortunately, all of the brisket at my local market did not have much or any fat.
When preparing the brine for the brisket, you must use pink curing salt #1 NOT pink curing salt #2. Pink curing salt #1, also known as Prague powder, only has sodium nitrite, while pink curing salt #2 has sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. This pink curing salt contributes to the pink color and kills the bacteria in the meat. I had to purchase mine online at Amazon.com; however, you can substitute it with 2 tsp of table salt. Just keep in mind that your meat will be brown in color.
You must use a non-reactive container when brining the brisket. This excludes aluminum, copper, cast-iron, garbage bags, and styrofoam. These materials all react with the salt and give the meat an undesirable flavor.
Five days later and the corned beef is ready. You will find that the brisket is slightly tan in color and looks as it did raw. Of course, you can skip all these steps and buy already prepared corned beef.
After you have soaked the corned beef in water, season generously. The longer the pastrami sits in the seasonings, the better it will taste. I let mine sit for 5 days.
Now it’s finally time to cook the pastrami! If you have a charcoal smoker, this is the best equipment to use. The charcoal produces a deeper darker crust than gas or electric smokers. For the wood, any type will do since the pastrami already has so much flavor.
If you are like me and don’t own a smoker, you can use your oven! Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F with the oven rack in the lowest position. Line a large baking sheet with two long sheets of aluminum foil, overlapping 1 inch in the center. Make sure the bottom and sides are covered and that there is enough excess foil.
Scatter wood chips in an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Place a roasting rack on top so that it is 1 1/2 inches above the chips. If your rack isn’t high enough, you can flip it over.
Place the brisket with the fat side up on the rack. Pull up the sheets of foil to extend over the meat, crimping the open ends tightly together to create a tent. Bring up the foil on the sides and crimp the edges together so that there are no gaps or open ends.
Place the roasting rack over two burners over medium-high heat. Smoke for about 5 minutes or until a steady stream of smoke starts to pour out. Transfer to the oven and smoke for about 10 hours or until the internal temperature is 140 degrees F.
Remove the pastrami from the oven, cool to room temperature, chill and continue with the steps on how to steam. Why do we steam? It continues the cooking process and allows the pastrami to become oh so tender.
Since the pastrami is rather large pieces of meat, they did not fit in my steamer. No problem here because you can make one with your baking pan! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fill a baking pan with about 3 inches of water and place a roasting rack or wire rack in the baking pan. Lay a large sheet of aluminum foil on the rack and place the meat on top. Fold up the edges of the foil to create a bed for the meat and sealing up the edges. Doing this allows the pastrami to steam in its own juices, making it even juicer! You may need to add more water during the cooking process depending on how long it takes.
Now making a pastrami Reuben is entirely up to you. You can make a simple pastrami sandwich and it will still be outrageously delicious.
When slicing, make sure to slice across the grain. In other words, you want to see which direction the lines in the pastrami go. Cut the opposite direction of those lines. If the lines are horizontal, slice vertically. Slicing across the grain gives you less chewy pieces.
I cannot begin to describe how delicious this pastrami is! I was nervous about the outcome until I sliced into the pastrami and saw the juices pouring out. In all honesty, I think this pastrami is even better than Katz deli. The spices make the pastrami so incredibly flavorful and the slow smoking process combined with the two hours of steaming yielded a tender, fall apart pastrami. Thank goodness I made extra because I cannot get enough of this pastrami!
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