There is a long weekend coming up and I have an excellent suggestion as to what you could do with it. Why not have a go at making home made pastrami? It’s not quick, but it’s also not difficult in the slightest. And if the weather is good over the Jubilee, it’s an excuse to get the barbecue out. Tempted yet?
Pastrami is beef brisket, brined and cured, then rubbed with spices and smoked until cooked. It’s also known as the finest sandwich filling around and something you always want more of so having a great big hunk of it in the fridge as cold cuts when you’re off work is just ideal. I’d actually never cooked with brisket before, but Mister North’s superlative spiced beef at Christmas had piqued my interest and I was just waiting to get my hands on one. And thanks to Becs over at Lay The Table alerting me to the presence of Farmison and their grass fed, higher welfare standard meat by mail order, I ordered a 2kg beauty on a Tuesday evening and had it ready for its brine bath by Thursday tea time which impressed me greatly and I’ll certainly be using them again for things my butcher can’t get me easily.
Brining meat is very easy. You simply prepare a solution of water, spices and salt and immerse the meat for the required time. This is also a cure thanks to the presence of saltpetre and means the meat doesn’t spoil, but retains a lovely rosy hue instead of looking leathery like some cooked beef does. Although the meat will be preserved by the process, you still need to be cautious with hygiene and make sure everything you use is nice and clean. It’s also worth preparing everything in advance rather than weighing spices at each step or you’ll lose track and end up accidentally doing too much of one thing.
- brisket (I used a 2kg piece)
- 200g sea salt
- 100g dark brown sugar
- 2 litres water ( I boiled it and cooled it)
- 6 cloves of raw garlic
- few stalks of thyme
- 2 teaspoons of saltpetre (I had mine from the bacon)
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp whole peppercorns
- 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1 tsp shichimi togarashi (or chilli flakes)
- 2 tsp allspice berries
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground mace
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 4 bay leaves (ie: I just used everything in the cupboard, bar cumin)
If your brisket comes in one of those meat hairnets, remove that now, but keep the string around it to keep the brisket shaped and rolled. Rub a handful of the salt over the meat while you dissolve the rest of the salt, the sugar and the saltpetre in the hot water. Give the spices a bash to release their oils and flavours and add to the water. Bruise the garlic cloves to release the flavours and put them and the thyme into a deep tupperware and put the meat in and pour the brine you’ve just made over the meat. Seal it up and leave it in the fridge for up to five days, but a minimum of two.
The meat will still have a pinkish tinge when you take it out of the brine so don’t worry, it’s quite safe to cook. The meat needs to be smoked to give that proper pastrami feel so there are two ways you can do it. If the weather is nice, you can use the barbecue or you can do it in the oven, but either way you’ll need wood chips to impart the smokiness that lifts this from just being beef. Don’t forget to rub a crust of ground coriander seeds and cracked black pepper over the top of the meat first.
I started mine off on the barbecue using the indirect method where the charcoal is on either side of the grill and the meat is in the middle in the coolest spot so that it cooks without getting that charred exterior that direct cooking gives. I added pecan wood chips that I had soaked first and I got a fairly good smoke on but the charcoal went out about two hours in and since I don’t have a meat thermometer, I couldn’t tell if the meat was cooked so I popped in the oven to finish off. I put the rest of the wood chips in a dispable foil tray and put the meat above them on a trivet, then covered it all with foil and slow cooked it for 90 minutes at 150℃. The moisture from the wood chips steams the meat so it doesn’t dry out, but keep an eye and make sure they don’t lose moisture themselves. You might need to top up.
Once you’ve let the meat cool down then you can congratulate yourself. You’ve just made pastrami from scratch! It’s as simple as that. Now serve it either slightly warmed (pop it back in the oven to heat gently) or at room temperature for a stunning picnic lunch. I made mini pretzel rolls and bagels from Dan Lepard’s excellent recipe and heaped them high with gherkins and mustard on the side and it all seemed to go down marvellously, fortifying us well to sit through four hours of Eurovision, but leaving me with a goodly amount of leftovers for cold cuts in the warm weather. Don’t delay and you could be seeing in the oh so British Jubilee next week with some very American pastrami!