When I saw this month’s Charcutiere Challenge, “to brine, and then corn, a piece of beef” I admit I was disappointed. Not in the challenge part of it, but by the fact that I really don’t like corned beef. Its saltiness and flaccid texture has never appealed to me. My mother agreed and suggested we try making pastrami which is basically brined beef taken one step further by applying a dry rub and smoking it after the brining process.
This is not a single day, cook-to-eat process. It’s a multi-day, you-have-to-really-want-it project. However, like most things which are cooked from scratch at home, the end product is worth it, significantly better than anything you typically buy in the grocery store. I still think pastrami is too salty for my personal preference, but I really enjoyed the sandwiches I ate with it on the home made rye bread I made using the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
The main recipe for the pastrami came from Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie and below are our notes on the curing and smoking process. We taste tested sandwiches two times, once before the low cooking and once after, and there was a definite increase in tenderness after the slow cooking so I highly recommend it. The challenge brought us both a better understanding of how this popular dish is made and how just a few variables can completely change the taste of essentially the same piece of meat.
1. We started with a 3.5 lb piece of brisket which was cut into two pieces, with the “point” still containing the major fat layer.
2. Each piece was place in a zip lock bag with a brine mixture containing all the “regular” spices: salt, sugar, pink (curing) salt, pickling spice. To one we added juniper berries, cracked black pepper, crushed garlic and bay leaf. To the other, Tuscan meat spice, and smoked paprika.
3. The meat was kept in the brine for 2.5 days-then removed, washed off, and soaked in cold water for a few hours, changing the water frequently. This was done in hopes of removing some of the saltiness. At this point if you wanted to make traditional corned beef you would simmer the brisket with more spices to make it tender.
4. After rinsing each piece was dried and allowed to sit in the refrigerator over night on a rack to dry out.
5. The next day we put a separate dry rub on each piece and wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap. One was traditional; pepper and coriander. The other was spice with Spanish smoked paprika, BBQ seasoning, urfa bibr pepper, garlic Tuscan meat blend, and chipoltle pepper. The meat then sat in the dry rub for 24 hrs refrigerated (pictures)
6. On the final day, the meat was hot smoked for about 3.5 hours, with smoke only for the first 2 hours. Note that meat does not look pink or reddish until after the smoke has been applied.
7. The final step is to cook the meat in a low temp oven covered, for about 4 hours, at 200 degrees to further tenderize it. This allows more of the fat to cook off. Note the difference in the amount of fat before cooking in the oven and after in the photo below. Even though those are the two different pieces, you can see how much of the fat might render off during the second cooking process.