The Slavic Jews created Pastrami and is related (if not developed from) a product called pastrama which is a highly seasoned, smoked pork that’s very traditional and famous in the European country of Romania.
Pastrami is not made from pork but beef and it became very popular in the Jewish delicatessens all over Europe and as people emigrated to the United States so it found it’s way there. Today it’s available almost anywhere and I dare say that the humble origins are all but forgotten.
Given the huge diversity of countries and cultures that now make and eat pastrami there are quite a few variations on the theme so the process I’m describing below is what I would call the fundamentals that are common to all pastrami making. The flavoring s and seasonings that you might want to add in addition to the basics….well that’s up to you.
Pastrami is essentially beef that has been cured and highly seasoned, to cook it you can smoke it or cook in water. Water (I think) is easier, but to be authentic, it should be cold smoked first.
You can also use a variety of beef cuts to make it which is great because there’s an option for all pockets. You can use sirloin or do as I do and use brisket, just don’t try to make it out of filet for example, anything that’s either extremely lean or very fatty should be avoided. If using brisket you can simply un-roll any rolled piece and you are ready to go, it is a great low cost option but you are not going to get a really big slice at the end. The get the best shape then a large hunk of sirloin is the way to go if you can afford it.
Once trimmed for fat and gristle your beef needs to be cut up into chunks about the size of a really good handful and cured. The curing time will depend on the thickness of the meat hence an unrolled piece of brisket will take longer than a decent chunk of sirloin. You need to allow 6 days of curing time for every inch of thickness.
In addition to the traditional pastrami rub curing salts (which include the nitrate or nitrite pink color fixer) this is where you can really go to town and make your own mark. Some of the traditional seasonings include, allspice, onion, garlic, black pepper, ginger, red pepper, cloves, oregano, paprika,and coriander seeds.
When the curing time is up it’s time for smoking but before the meat goes into the smoker it’s at this point that cracked black pepper is pushed into the flesh to give that external coating with which we are so familiar. It then needs to be hung to dry for an hour and then cold smoked for between 3 and 6 hours.
The final step once smoked is to wrap each chunk up in stretch wrap and place each one in a re-sealable plastic bag with all the air squeezed out. Pop these bags into hot water just below a simmer for 2 to 3 hours to tenderize it.
That’s your pastrami made, allow it to cool, refrigerate overnight and then enjoy.