In the world of cold cuts, pastrami reigns supreme. It is at turns salty, spicy, good served warm or cold, piled high or low. It is the ultimate sandwich meat. When I joined up with the increasingly impressive group of food folks doing Charcutepalooza, I knew I wanted to tackle pastrami. Last months challenge was brining, so I made a traditional corned beef brisket, which I served on St. Patrick’s Day. But I also brined a piece of brisket with the intention of making pastrami, which is essentially a smoked corned beef. The brisket I bought was huge, so there was more than enough meat for both corned beef and pastrami. I just cut it in half, using the flat or first cut for corned beef and the larger triangle cut for pastrami.
I used the same pickling spice and brine recipes as I used on the corned beef, except I used cumin seed instead of caraway seed in the brine. I ended up brining the meat for a little over a month, although that was not what I intended to do! Stomach flu tends to really mess up your original plans, so I just rolled with it. Because the piece of meat was so large, I knew that the long brining time would be fine. OK, I didn’t know, but whatever. It was fine.
2 TB mustard seeds
2 TB whole allspice
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 cinnamon stick
Mix the spices together and seal in an airtight container to store. This is an all purpose pickling spice mix, and can be used for almost any pickle recipe.
7-8 cups water (depending on size of brisket)
1 bottle dark ale
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup pickling spice
1 1/2 TB pink curing salt
1 TB cumin seeds
1 tsp Tellicherry peppercorns
Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place your brisket into a large pot or resealable plastic bag, then pour the brine over the meat. Be sure the brisket is submerged, cover or seal, and place into the refrigerator.
Because of the long brining time, I rinsed the brisket and covered it in cold water. I let the meat soak overnight in the refrigerator, to remove some of the saltiness from the meat. As you can see from the picture of the whole brisket, there is a large fatty area that runs through the thicker end of the brisket. I cut through the fat, then trimmed it down so my pastrami would not be so fatty.
To make your pastrami taste like pastrami, and not smoky corned beef you need a dry spice rub. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the meat with the rub. I always like to give it little “massage” to make sure the flavors penetrate. As you can see from the picture below the spices are course ground, not fine. Be sure to use whole spices when making the rub.
Pastrami Dry Spice Rub
3 TB coriander seed
2 TB tellicherry peppercorns
2 tsp mustard seed
8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Place all the ingredients into a small food chopper or processor. Grind the spices until it becomes a very course paste.
I used good hardwood charcoal in the smoker, along with applewood chips for flavor. The pastrami smoked for about 3 1/2 hours, then finished cooking in a 200 degree oven, until the internal temperature of the meat registered 160 degrees. It is very important to let the meat cool and rest overnight for the flavors to fully develop. Of course, my mother could not wait, and demanded I slice her off some of the pastrami as soon as it came out of the oven! I obliged her, and she made a sandwich right then and there. Being a good daughter, I told her it would be even better if she waited, but she was not having it. She said it was delicious as it was, so that was that!
Sometimes mom does know best, because when I sliced some the next day after letting it rest, it indeed was delicious. Best.Pastrami.Ever. In my humble opinion, of course.