My friend, neighbor, and frequent video collaborator Pete Handelman (aka Pedro Pe,) didn't need much persuading to swing by the Chintzy Chateau to try out my latest recipe, a Homemade Deli Pastrami. (Be sure to click here to see our hilarious cooking collaboration "The 99 Cent Chef Meets Pedro Pe.")
Pete's lived in NYC and knows a good deli sandwich; and he's also been on a L.A. pastrami kick of late -- noshing at sandwich citadels all over town: from limp and waterlogged Johnnie's Pastrami Dips in Culver City, to the longtime classic at Canter's Deli on Fairfax Avenue. And, he thought it tasted as good as Langer's Delicatessen -- voted the top rated Pastrami Sandwich in Los Angeles!
I've never made a Homemade Deli Pastrami, but Googleing a few recipes, it seemed simple enough. The most complicated part is easy: coat it in a dry rub of sugar, salt, coriander and plenty of black pepper; then you seal it in a Ziploc (or sealed non-metal container) for a week or two in the refrigerator. The hardest part is waiting to cook it -- especially when it will turn out so smokey, peppery and succulent.
After curing, I boiled the beef for 3 hours, then applied a dry rub, and finally smoked it in my gas grill for an hour. The first bright scarlet colored slices of pastrami looked as good as any deli-made. The cooked pastrami was so tender I had to carefully slice it. Pete had his pastrami with my Homemade Deli Coleslaw (recipe here) and Dijon mustard, between 2 slices of sourdough bread -- I had mine simply on sourdough with a smear of Dijon. A sandwich doesn't taste better than when stacked with smoked meat hot off the grill.
And I totally lucked out getting a whole brisket of beef for 98 cents per pound at my local Albersons grocery store. A cut of corned beef or brisket does need to be slow cooked to tenderize it -- that's why it's so cheap; but when slow cooked and smoked, it is one of the most tender and tasty of meats.
The most expensive spice ingredient is ground coriander; but you could even get around that. When you get packaged corned beef it comes with a spice packet. Just sort out the round tan coriander seeds and grind them up. (If you don't have a grinder then hammer a Ziploc bag with coriander seeds until they are the size of roughly ground pepper.)
You do need some patience though, but it's quite easy to do. And the results are worth the wait. And at the end of this post, under Hindsight, I give you an alternate recipe for oven-baking the pastrami, for my visitors who don't have access to an outdoor grill -- it's still quite tasty.
*For a no-brine-and-refrigeration quickie version, go to the end of this post.
So for some of the most delicious cured beef you will ever have, watch The 99 Cent Chef latest stop motion animated opus, Homemade Deli Pastrami video, and do try making one yourself -- you will have your family and friends eating out of your hands!
Homemade Deli Pastrami - VIDEO
Play it here. Video runs 4 minutes 8 seconds.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.
Check back for my next blogpost on what to cook with Homemade Deli Pastrami leftovers.
1 large brisket (or corned beef.) The size will vary - I've made pastrami with 3 to 5 pound sizes, so far.
Ingredients for Curing Dry Rub
- 1/4 cup of salt - any type
- 1/4 cup brown sugar - or regular sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon powered garlic - optional
Directions for Curing Pastrami
Open package of corned beef brisket and rinse off. Save spice packet if necessary (separate coriander seeds and grind them up.) Mix salt, sugar, black pepper and corriander together. (All the spices I used were already ground up.)
Rinse off brisket, pat dry or let it drain for a few minutes. Coat all sides of brisket with curing spices.
Place coated brisket in a Ziploc bag or sealable container (not metal though, use ceramic, glass or plastic.) Store coated and sealed brisket in the back of the refrigerator for at least a week. I cured mine for 2 weeks.
Dry Rub Ingredients for Smoking
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper - okay to use less. Sometimes black pepper can overpower everything, but I like my pastrami that way.
- Wood chips for smoking the pastrami in a BBQ grill -- about 4 cups.
Directions for Cooking Pastrami
After the brisket is cured for a week or two, remove from refrigerator and rinse off the meat. Add brisket to a large pot with a cover and fill it with water to just above the meat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover.
You want to low boil it for 30 minutes then totally replace the briny water with fresh - enough water to cover the meat by an inch. This first extra boiling step helps leech out most of the salt, otherwise your finished pastrami is way too salty.
When you get the fresh water to boil, reduce heat to low, put a lid on the pot and simmer for at least 3 hours. Check on it from time to time to make sure the water doesn't cook out (the water can cook out by a third, that's okay, as the meat will continue to steam.)
When finished boiling, remove the meat and set it to drain. Make the dry rub to coat the meat for smoking. Mix the pepper and coriander and coat all sides of the brisket.
Now time to smoke it. There are several ways, you mainly need an outdoor grill with a cover. I have a 2 burner gas grill. The object is to smoke the meat with indirect heat. That is, place the meat as far away from the flame as possible. The meat is already cooked, so you just want to smoke it at this stage. If you have a simple outdoor charcoal bbq grill then build a fire way off to one side.
The flame is for a pan of wood chips. You could even loosely wrap a large handful of chips in aluminum foil and place over hot coals or the gas flame.
Depending how hot the flame is, the wood chips should start smoking in 5 to 10 minutes. When the smoke starts, place the boiled brisket as far away from the flame as possible and cover the grill tightly. Check every 10 minutes or so and replace the wood chips with fresh ones as they cook away, if needed. I smoked my pastrami for an hour. Even just a half hour of smoking will still give you a great flavor and a crunchy crusted pastrami.
In the hour of smoking I had to replace the blackened wood chips a couple of times. The meat will still heat up and brown, even away from the heat. If you are using a coal burning grill your smoking time may be shorter, as they often burn hotter than a more controllable gas grill (about half an hour of smoking?) The length of time it takes for the wood chips to stop smoking is all the time you really need.
After the pastrami is smoked, place it on a cutting board, slice across the grain, and make a big fat pastrami sandwich, your way!
Curing the pastrami in the refrigerator can last one to two weeks.
After curing the meat, make sure to boil the pastrami for half an hour, then totally replace the water with fresh, or it will be too salty.
The trickiest part is smoking the pastrami. I do it a short amount of time so the meat doesn't dry out too much. Add the meat once the wood chips start smoking. Smoking makes the meat so flavorful, it's worth it.
If you have a large enough grill with room to spare, then add a few links of sausage around the brisket -- no sense wasting any of that smoking space!
Pastrami in the Oven
If you don't have an outdoor grill you can still make a delicious pastrami. Just boil it for half an hour to remove the curing salt taste. Drain and fill the pot with fresh water until it comes halfway up the brisket. Rub on enough dry rub mix (black pepper and coriander) to coat the top of the brisket. Cover the pot with a lid or foil.
In a preheated 350 degree oven and add the covered brisket. Bake for about 4 hours. Check from time to time to make sure the water doesn't cook out. Add a cup of water at a time as needed. The pastrami is done when it is tender. Slice the pastrami "across the grain", so it doesn't break apart.
I like my pastrami sandwich with mustard. It's traditionally served on rye bread, but sourdough is a tasty and cheap substitution. My Deli Coleslaw recipe is a click away, here, for added veggie crunch on the side, or on the sandwich itself. I got about 4 large sandwiches from a 4 pound (uncooked weight) corned beef brisket -- you may get more depending on the sliced serving size.
If you are reheating cooked pastrami, it is best to steam it covered on a steamer rack for a few minutes until warm. You could also microwave it. I like to place a hunk (or a few slices) of pastrami on a plate and cover it with a small damp paper towel, then zap it until warmed through.
My favorite use for the trimmings of pastrami is to mix it into scrambled eggs. Check back for that recipe next week.
Ground coriander is expensive. Packages of corned beef come with a spice packet that has tan coriander seeds. (Most corning beef directions from stuffy chefs and by-the-book newspaper food sites rail against these packets and say to toss them out -- I use them and while not perfect, the spices are flavorful enough.) So, the cheapie way is to sort out the seeds and grind them up (hammer seeds in a plastic bag, or use a coffee grinder.) That's how cheap I am!
Quickie Pastrami Version
Just take out the corned beef from package and rinse it off. In a pot of boiling water add the corned beef along with the contents of the herb and seasoning package that comes with the corned beef. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar (or favorite sweetner,) a teaspoon of salt, pepper and garlic powder (or a clove.)
Low boil the corned beef covered about 3 hours until tender. Remove from water/broth. From here you can use my smoking or baking method to finish cooking.
The flavor is not as intense as brining, but is is the next best thing and your dining guest will not know the difference -- as long as you don't spill the beans!