The first thing anyone should know is that pastrami is delicious. As for explaining what pastrami is, it begins as raw meat, traditionally beef plate though brisket and round have grown in prominence; then it is brined, partly dried, augmented with herbs and spices and then treated via smoking and steaming. Both mutton and turkey are also valid non-beef proteins by which pastrami can be made.
The thing that makes pastrami special is that it is a meat dish that was intended for prolonged storage. Even the dish’s name “pastrami” is derived from phrases indicative of preservation. The Romanian term “pastramă” was used to refer to conserved food or preserving something for a lengthy amount of time. Furthermore, the etymology behind pastramă can be traced back to the Turkish “bastırma,” which means “pressed meat.”
Enhancing the Flavor of Your Pastrami
As we have previously mentioned, pastrami undergoes several steps before it can be called a proper pastrami. One of the first ways you can go about enhancing the flavor of the end product is during the brining step.
An Example Brine
This is just one example of the sort of creativity you can display during the brining process. This particular example involves 3 quarts of water and 3-4 pounds of beef brisket. Keep this in mind when brining brisket for smokers.
- Salt, kosher, 1 cup
- Salt, curing, pink, 1/4 cup
- Sugar, granulated, 1 cup
- Sugar, brown, 1/2 cup, firmly-packed
- Honey, 1/4 cup
- Pickling spice, 2 tbsp
- Seeds, whole, coriander, 1 tbsp
- Seeds, whole, mustard, yellow, 1 tbsp
- Cloves, garlic, 4, minced.
While you may think that a marinade is a good idea for adding flavor to pastrami, pastrami is one of the few opportunities where you want to avoid moisture after the brining step. No, if you want to add even more of a flavor profile to your pastrami, you will want to use a dry rub. One of the most important reasons why a dry rub is so crucial to proper pastrami is because a dry rub allows you to work with dry-yet-flavorful staples; salt was one of the first means of preserving food due to its abilities to absorb water and cure any meat it was coated. In short, a proper pastrami requires a good brine and an even better dry rub.
A Step-By Step Guide to Assembling a Dry Rub for Pastrami
Because there are multiple ways to go about this process, I have included several difference recipes in order to both educate would-be pastrami-makers and also to showcase different approaches to the same goal. Even if none of these recipes seems just right for your sensibilities, it is my hope that what I have presented is more than sufficient to inspire you to try your own blend.
Pastrami Rub Recipe #1
- Pepper, black, coarsely ground, 4 tbsp
- Powder, coriander, 2 tbsp
- Powder, mustard, 1 tsp
- Sugar, brown, 1 tbsp
- Paprika, 1 tbsp
- Powder, garlic, 2 tsp
- Powder, onion, 2 tsp
- Combine all of these ingredients together into a bowl until you have an even blend.
- Transfer the contents to an air-tight container so that you can preserve the seasonings’ flavors for as long as possible.
Pastrami Rub Recipe #2
- pepper, black, coarse-ground, 1/4 cup
- Seeds, coriander, 2 tbsp
- Seeds, mustard, 1 tsp
- Sugar, turbinado, 1 tbsp
- Paprika, 2 tsp
- Garlic, granulated, 1.5 tsp
- Onion, granulated, 1.5 tsp
- Powder, chili, ancho, 1 tsp
- Grind the coriander and mustard seed in a spice grinder. Lacking a grind, you can resort to placing them in a heavy-duty zip-lock bag, lay the bag out over a cutting board and use a blunt kitchen tool like a meat tenderizer or rolling pin until such time as the seeds have been cracked and coarsely broken.
- Add the ground spices to the other rub ingredients.
Super Basic Pastrami Rub #3
- Coriander, ground, 1/4 cup
- Pepper, black, ground, 2 tbsp
- Paprika, smoked, 2 tbsp
- Simply combine the three ingredients together in a bowl
Pastrami Rub Recipe #4
- Peppercorns, black, 2 tbsp
- Seeds, coriander, 1/4 cup
- Sugar, turbinado, 1 tbsp
- Paptrika, smoked 2 tbsp
- Garlic, granulated, 1.5 tbsp
- Powder, chili, ancho, 1 tsp
- Grind all of the spices up in either a grinder, mortar and pestle or even a food processor.
A Note on Corned Beef and Applying the Rub
While all pastrami should be thoroughly rubbed down with a proper rub, this step should come after you have allowed the meat to brine for a sufficient amount of time and thoroughly washed off the excess salt, sugar and other ingredients of the brine itself. This practice is slightly different when addressing the issue of how to make pastrami from corned beef.
Corned beef is brisket that has been allowed to brine for up to a full week. The meat is then given a proper boil and steaming. Conversely, pastrami is meat that has been brined to a curing point, then thoroughly rubbed with a dry mixture of seasonings and spices before being smoked and steamed. If you want to take a shortcut or you just happen to have come into some corned beef, you can certainly turn corned beef into beef pastrami by engaging in each step of the pastrami-making process after the brine step; that meat has already had one seasonal salt bath, it doesn’t need another.
Now that you know about pastrami and all that you need to make it done right, the only thing left is to put this article’s advice into practice. Remember, the rub may not be the final step in making pastrami, but it is the last step to add any real flavor or heat to the meat. A good rule of thumb when it comes to smoking the pastrami that you lovingly smothered with your favorite dry rub recipe is to smoke the meat for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the poundage; you want to aim for an internal temperature of around 190°F, long enough for the meat to develop a darkened “bark” of an exterior. Once you are done smoking your brisket, the only thing left to do is to steam it. A good rule of thumb when it comes to steaming smoked pastrami is one hour per pound of pastrami.
Play around with your personal rub until things are just perfect and then you can use your finished pastrami for a variety of recipes.
- The iconic pastrami sandwich, while all you need is some rye bread you can never go wrong by adding cheese.
- The classic Reuben sandwich. While the ideal Reuben specifically calls for corned beef, pastrami is a close enough meat to serve as a suitable substitute; after all, pastrami is just corned beef that has gone through extra flavoring. Just get some sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, some butter for the bread and maybe some caraway seeds if you are feeling fancy and you can make a sandwich that is miles above the basic pastrami-on-rye.
- Thinly sliced pastrami, wrapped around larger varieties of shrimp and threaded through metal skewers. Feel free to serve this with a variety of dipping sauces, such as tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and A1.
- Boil up about 10 Yukon gold potatoes, then toss in a pound of pastrami, two shallots that have been thoroughly diced, 2 tablespoons of garlic butter and a pinch of kosher salt and you have a rocking good sauté of pastrami and potatoes.
- One last recipe for you fine folks is fried cabbage and noodles with pastrami. Sauté a mixture of two thinly sliced onions, four crushed cloves of garlic, two drained cans’ worth of mushrooms, 32 ounces of cole slaw, and 3/4 tablespoon of salt for around half an hour. In a separate pot, cook 1 pound of bow tie noodles in water to al dente. Make sure to add a bit of salt to the pasta water. Drain the noodles and then add 8 ounces of thinly sliced pastrami, some black pepper, a tablespoon of mustard and a teaspoon of sugar to the vegetable mixture and sauté for a handful of minutes. Finish by adding the noodles and combine over medium heat.