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The Butcher

The Best in a Classic Deli Pastrami

May 01, 1986|MERLE ELLIS

In many markets and delicatessens around the country, I find pastrami made from all manner of meat cuts. Some I've seen is made from the brisket of beef, some from the "bottom round" or "eye-of-round." There is even pastrami, some say, made from turkey meat.

The cut of meat that is called for in the classic New York deli pastrami is a part of the flank of the beef animal. However, it is not that part of the flank that is called flank steak. That is a thin, oblong muscle that is good for London broil and stir-fry dishes, but not for pastrami.

From the Tail of the T-Bone

The part of the flank used for pastrami might best be described as the tail of the T-bone. It's the belly portion of the beef carcass, below the short loin, sometimes left on the T-bone and Porterhouse steaks when they are cut. Maybe that's why we so seldom see the flank used for pastrami. Butchers can make more money selling it at steak prices.

The idea of making my own pastrami had not occurred to me until several months ago, when a friend, Joyce Goldstein, chef/owner of Square One restaurant in San Francisco, called and said: "I'd like to offer a really good New York-style pastrami at the restaurant; do you have a recipe I could experiment with?" At the time, I didn't have, but times change. Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with Dr. A. Wade Brant, emeritus food technologist, University of California, Davis. I asked Brant if he had a recipe for Home-Cured Pastrami. A few days later I received the following: HOME-CURED PASTRAMI

1 (4 1/2- to 5-pound) slab of beef flank

1/2 cup salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon sodium nitrate (saltpeter)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon coriander

1/4 cup black peppercorns, cracked

4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

Trim meat of excess outside fat, leaving at least 1/4-inch covering. Pat meat dry with clean cloth or paper towel.

Combine salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and ginger in mixing bowl. Place coriander and peppercorns in heavy plastic bag and crush using mallet or bottom of heavy skillet. Add to bowl. Add garlic and blend well.

Thoroughly rub seasonings into meat on all sides. Place meat in heavy plastic bag and seal. Place bag on large tray and refrigerate 8 days, turning bag once a day.

Remove meat from bag and drain liquid. Reserve solid seasonings and discard liquid. Pat seasonings back into meat. Using large needle, thread string through meat at 2 corners and tie ends of each string together to form 2 loops. Hang meat in cool, dry drafty place. Electric fan can be used to circulate air. Let meat dry 24 hours. (It's important that surface of meat be well-dried to receive smoke properly.)

Hang meat in smoker and smoke 3 to 3 1/2 hours at 150 to 160 degrees. Let cool and refrigerate. To serve, slice as thinly as possible across grain.

Note: Saltpeter (sodium or potassium nitrate), once available in any drugstore in the country, can be hard to find, although pharmacists can order it. A substitute product that works well is B. Heller's Complete Cure With Sugar, which is available in butcher supply shops. Substitute 1 cup of curing salt for salt, sugar and sodium nitrate and adjust curing time according to thickness of meat: 1 day in cure for each 1/4 inch of thickness.

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