Making Pastrami


Around New Year’s, a friend and I were discussing the finer points of sandwich meats, and we found ourselves extolling the virtues of a well made Pastrami sandwich – which neither of us have had for many years. With nostalgia in our hearts and adventure in our spirits, we set out to recreate those oh-so-wonderful pastrami Reuben sandwiches now sitting tantalizingly in our minds.

A quick web search revealed a series of immensely informative articles on About.com on exactly how to make your own corned beef and pastrami. So now I was armed with the process of Brine, Dry Rub and Smoke, I needed to prepare the meat itself.

My Excellent Butcher, Samara on Hassanein Heikel Street in Nasr City, is a highly educated man. I love going there, because all I need to do is tell him the English name of the cut I want, and he fills me in on the cut’s name in Arabic, and adds a little culinary infoas well. The cut I was looking for was Brisket, which in Arabic is called “Dosh”. The same cut has a different name in Arabic, depending on the animal: the more familiar name of “Neefa” is the brisket from a sheep or goat.

In an Egyptian kitchen, “Neefa” is braised slowly after spending a day or two marinading in grated tomatoes, onions, green peppers and seasoning. The marinade tenderizes the meat and gets it ready for the slow braising. I’ve had barbecued “Neefa” before, and I did not enjoy it – it was too tough. The Butcher confirmed my judgment by telling me that any self respecting Kebabgy (read: BBQ Pit-master) would never offer broiled/barbecued Neefa, precisely because of its toughness. The Brisket corresponds to the Pectoral (read: Chest) muscles of the animal, near the forelegs. Those muscles may be big, but they’re also notoriously fatty and tough, since they do so much work.

That’s why we’re brining this bad boy; it loosens it up and in our case, can be used to impart some extra flavor as well. My butcher prepared a nice 2Kg slab of brisket for me, with the flat and the point still attached per my request. If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and I wanted the satisfaction of preparing the Pastrami from start to finish. I took the meat home and began work trimming and preparing the flat for pastrami. Another websearch yielded this very informative page on how to trim brisket.

Once the flat was prepared, I got my brine on. Cloves, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Beef Stock cubes, Cardamom, Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder and Red Hot Chilli Powder went into about 4 liters of hot water.

It smelled of ambrosia.

I set the flat into the brine, covered it and let it sit in a dark corner of my fridge for 4 days. Thankfully, a trip to warmer climes eased the anticipation anxiety.

Taking the flat out, patting it dry and preparing a dry rub was pure joy, since I could already taste the goodness. The rub was the same as the brine mixture, sans cardamom and water. the final step was then to wrap it in mutiple layers of foil and placing it in a 350 degree oven for an hour and a half.

The result?

Not exactly what I expected, but not a total disaster. The meat had shrunk to about half its original size, and I overcooked it in the oven. In hindsight, I skipped a crucial step – soaking the beef in fresh water overnight to draw out the excess salt and rehydrate the beef a bit. Also, I skipped smoking the meat since #1 I do not have a smoker at home and #2 I could not find wood chips to smoke the meat with. Next time, I’m gonna try smoking it while its roasting in the oven – at a much lower temperature.

All in all, it was a proof of concept, and as a good friend of mine said – the 2nd time is always better than the first. I wonder now if she was talking about food…

Cooking Time 1 Week. Ouch.

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About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

One Response to Making Pastrami

  1. HR says:

    Teach me! I’ll be in Cairo in a week. And I come bearing a thirst–nay a hunger–for cookage. Have you the time sir?

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