I've noshed Pastrami 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 Langer's Delicatessen voted the top-rated Pastrami Sandwich in Los Angeles (so says New Yorker writer Nora Ephron.)
I've never made a Homemade Deli Pastrami, but Googleing a few recipes, it seemed simple enough. The most complicated part is easy: coat a slab of beef brisket 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.
My recipe includes 2 versions: there's one that uses an untreated beef brisket (where you cure the beef in the refrigerator for a week,) and a quicker version using an already cured corned beef brisket (where you skip the refrigerator curing and go right to the cooking stage.)
After curing, I boiled the beef for 3 hours, then applied a dry rub, and finally smoked it on my gas grill for an hour. The 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 corned brisket of beef for 98 cents per pound at my local Albersons grocery store. The best time to buy corned beef is during the St. Patrick's Day holiday. Sometimes it's less than a dollar, other years it is still way below $2 per pound. That's when it's on sale. I always get 2 or 3 packages to use during the spring and summer outdoor BBQ season
A cut of corned beef or brisket needs 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.
Please note that my recipe video is for untreated beef brisket, in another word, it's not corned. So, I take you through a few easy steps to make homemade corned beef. Hey, it's no extra charge!
But if you want a shortcut to my Homemade Pastrami recipe, just get an already corned beef (especially cheap during St. Patrick's Day holidays) and skip my week-long refrigerator curing stage, and go right to the boiling stage. You can go to the end of this post and under Hindsight -- you'll see the packaged Corned Beef recipe version.
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, 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.
(For an interesting history of Pastrami you can listen to it online, just click here and play the audio. Pastrami was first brought to New York by European Rumania Jews in the early 20th Century.)
So for some of the most delicious cured beef you will ever have, watch The 99 Cent Chef's 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, 4 seconds.
To view or embed from YouTube, click here.
Check back for my next blog post on what to cook with Homemade Deli Pastrami leftovers.
1 large brisket (or corned beef for a shortcut version.) The size will vary - I've made pastrami with 4 to5 pound sizes, so far.
Ingredients for Curing Dry Rub
- 1/4 cup of salt - kosher preferred. I've even used regular table salt.
- 1 tablespoon curing salt - optional, it's to keep the pink color of meat. Okay to leave out if color is not important, or if curing salt is not available.
- 1/4 cup brown sugar - or regular sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander -
- 1 tablespoon powdered garlic - optional
Directions for Curing Pastrami (skip this part if your get a Corned Beef Brisket)
Rinse off the beef brisket. Mix salt, sugar, black pepper, and coriander together. (All the spices I used were already ground up.)
Rinse off the 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.
Dry Rub Ingredients for Smoking
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander - optional. Once corned, the beef brisket has enough coriander flavor.
- 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 on a BBQ grill -- about 4 cups.
Directions for Cooking Pastrami
After the brisket is cured for a week, remove it from the refrigerator and rinse off the meat. And if you are using an already Corned Beef just remove it from the package.
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. (If you are using an already store-bought Corned Beef, there is no need to replace water, just keep boiling away.)
When you get the fresh water to boil, reduce the 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 a 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.
Depending on 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.
During 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 for 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, that 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 using a Corned Beef
If you don't have an outdoor grill you can still make a delicious pastrami. Follow my corning directions above for a fresh brisket. The easiest way is to skip the corning process and buy packaged corned beef.
Follow my boiling directions above, boiling the corned beef until tender.
When corned beef is tender, remove it and set it on a plate or rack. For a smoky flavor rub a tablespoon or two of liquid smoke all over the tenderized corned beef. Also sprinkle on black pepper liberally, about 2-3 tablespoons. You can add more or less to suit your taste.
In a preheated 350-degree oven add corned beef to a baking pan or dish. Bake for about an hour until corned beef has dry outer skin. Remove from oven when done.
When ready to serve, 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 using Corned Beef
Just take out the corned beef from the 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.
Low boil the corned beef covered for about 3-4 hours until tender. Remove from water.
I like to coat the brisket with a couple of tablespoons of black pepper for the smoking stage, but you can add as much (or little) black pepper as you like.
My Homemade Pastrami flavor is not as intense as a Jewish deli's, but it's the next best thing and your dining guest will not know the difference -- as long as you don't spill the beans!
Easy Homemade Deli Pastrami - VIDEO
Play it here. Video runs 2 minutes, 42 seconds.