My last blog featured Reuben Seup, the lovechild of a Reuben sandwich and French onion soup. Crucial to its success is good pastrami. Sure, you can buy it in a store if you want to settle for a nasty slab full of chemicals and preservatives, but nothing beats making it yourself. Pastrami starts as corned beef, which starts as beef brisket.
It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef, and a little more time after that to reach pastrami nirvana. But it’s not difficult to do.
Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”
Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made this way. Both corned beef and pastrami start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.
Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.
Step one: corned beef…
beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tsp. paprika
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup Kosher salt
2 quarts cool water
Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.
In the 1/4 cup of warm water, combine the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.
Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.
Refrigerate the container and contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.
At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!
Step two: making Pastrami…
Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place them in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.
Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.
Heat the smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.
It’s very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami! Let it rest before slicing.