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The Great Pastrami & Smoked Meat Experiment

Charcuterie

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#1 Chef Fowke

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:04 AM

There have been dozens of pastrami- and smoked-meat-related discussions on eGullet, and there are several active right now. Here's a recent sampling:

Pastrami News
http://forums.egulle...=ST&f=4&t=20329

Defining Barbecue
http://forums.egulle...=ST&f=1&t=24408

Smoked Corned Beef
Would you like some?
http://forums.egulle...=ST&f=3&t=17639

corned beef vs. pastrami
stupid question but...
http://forums.egulle...=ST&f=1&t=17596

GastronautQuebec Report
Day One
http://forums.egulle...ST&f=26&t=24229

I have been re-reading and researching the posts on this issue, and I am not convinced that one pastrami/corned beef/Montreal smoked meat is better or worse than any other -- more specifically I am not convinced we have a set of criteria by which to make intelligent statements on the subject. We are not dealing with scientific fact, not yet at least.

I propose that I spend the next 60 days, in my kitchen at Joe Fortes (the restaurant in Vancouver where I am executive chef), and produce eight types of corned/smoked/pastrami-style beef according to the recipes you all provide, and a group can then taste and judge them under truly scientific conditions.

I have eaten smoked meats at Schwartz’s, Ben’s and The Main -- ranging from lean to extra-fatty -- and they all taste completely different to me (not to mention the quality of breads and mustards served with them). I have eaten examples of smoked meat/pastrami in Cleveland, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, which have been great but greasier and smokier then any of the smoked meats in Montreal.

Escoffier set up the standardization of recipes for the culinary world in the late-19th/early-20th Century. We need to set up our own criteria through a scientific set of standards. I will donate a few hours a day if you will all supply the set of standards and measures. When the standards have been set we can then go out to all the great delis of North America and have the conceptual tools to identify the best pastrami/smoked-meat/corned-beef -- the one that is truly the greatest and the king.
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#2 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:22 AM

That's a very generous offer, and will no doubt benefit humankind.

I will attempt to beat a representative New York-style pastrami recipe out of one of the local producers. If anybody has any leads, let me know.

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#3 melkor

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:27 AM

I make pastrami by starting with an untrimmed cryovac'd corned beef brisket (13lbs or so), rinse the brisket. Make a rub with 2 or 3 parts black pepper, 1 part coriander and a bit of granulated garlic, coat the fat cap with the rub and place it into a 210*F smoker for 9 or 10 hours, until its 165*F inside. Every hour baste the sides with canola oil (and dab some on the top also to firm up the crust). I've got hour by hour photos of my pastrami experiment here. Once its done smoking, let it rest for about 20 min and then wrap in foil and refrigerate over night. 3 or 4 hours before you plan to eat it, place a chunk of the meat into a steamer of some sort (I use a pasta pot with an insert) and steam it for 3hours. Slice while hot and eat.

I use hickory in the smoker.

edit: some people use brown sugar in their rub, I prefer to leave it out.

Edited by melkor, 23 July 2003 - 11:31 AM.


#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:31 AM

Chef will probably want to do everything from scratch, though, so as to be able to control as many variables as possible. So we'd need a corned beef recipe to precede your pastramization procedure.

(No hits on Google on "pastramization," by the way; so I claim it as mine.)

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#5 melkor

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:35 AM

Chef will probably want to do everything from scratch, though, so as to be able to control as many variables as possible. So we'd need a corned beef recipe to precede your pastramization procedure.

(No hits on Google on "pastramization," by the way; so I claim it as mine.)

As a first step in the pastramization process cornification of the brisket will be required, for this you will need to injectifiy the brisket with saltpeter and brine it, I shall research more accurate directions.

edit: This recipe would be the recipe I would use were I corning the brisket myself.

Edited by melkor, 23 July 2003 - 12:03 PM.


#6 FoodMan

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 12:59 PM

They should all be tatse tested plain, unadorned with any condiments and breads... at least as a preliminary test.

All meat cuts should weigh the same and be similar in fat content.

I guess since I live in the south, it is out of the question for me to be on the tasting committee :sad:


FM

Edited by FoodMan, 23 July 2003 - 01:00 PM.

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#7 melkor

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 01:03 PM

I'd be willing to help out by flying up to Vancouver and tasting all of the options (someone has to do it :biggrin:).

#8 abbeynormal

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 02:48 PM

This recipe would be the recipe I would use were I corning the brisket myself.

Re: the recipe - anyone know why you have to weight down the meat for the first two or three days? Does it rise? Will it try to escape cornification because rye bread is brisket's only natural enemy?

I would be very interested to know if this results in something better than the corned beef in a bag found in the refrigerated section. Maybe somethings aren't meant to be homemade.

Edited by abbeynormal, 23 July 2003 - 02:49 PM.


#9 melkor

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:01 PM

This recipe would be the recipe I would use were I corning the brisket myself.

Re: the recipe - anyone know why you have to weight down the meat for the first two or three days? Does it rise? Will it try to escape cornification because rye bread is brisket's only natural enemy?

I would be very interested to know if this results in something better than the corned beef in a bag found in the refrigerated section. Maybe somethings aren't meant to be homemade.

The whole corned beef brisket in a bag from cash and carry (and I suspect other wholesale grocers) is much better than the trimmed brisket flats at the grocery store (3 or 4lb packages). I've had no reason to try and corn the brisket at home. I do believe that mustard is also a natural enemy of brisket.

#10 Jinmyo

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:19 PM

Chef Brian, this is indeed a noble experiment and one that will have shattering consequences for our history and our future. Sir, I salute you.
"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

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#11 jhlurie

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:30 PM

Chef Brian, this is indeed a noble experiment and one that will have shattering consequences for our history and our future. Sir, I salute you.

I honestly don't think she's joking... :biggrin:

It sounds like it will be a lot of fun too.

Even though its out of Chef's hands, preparation-wise, I wonder if some Katz's pastrami can't be airlifted as some kind of control or contrast for the experiment.

ed. for bad spelking...

Edited by jhlurie, 23 July 2003 - 03:52 PM.

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#12 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:33 PM

I can probably ship some as far as Seattle, so if Mamster goes up for the tasting he should be able to push it across the finish line. Given that it's a smoked and cured product, there shouldn't be any legal problems.

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#13 melkor

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:37 PM

I can probably ship some as far as Seattle, so if Mamster goes up for the tasting he should be able to push it across the finish line. Given that it's a smoked and cured product, there shouldn't be any legal problems.

I'm willing to make the trip as well, what would be better than a katz' pastrami in my carry-on?

#14 zilla369

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 07:35 PM

Then...the winning recipe will yield a product that has undergone pastramoptimization*, oui?

*credit: my roomie, the PirateKing. :cool:
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Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#15 Special Ed

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 07:39 PM

Then...the winning recipe will yield a product that has undergone pastramoptimization*, oui?

I betcha it'll taste pastrawesome.

#16 Chef Fowke

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 11:53 PM

Day one at the restaurant:

Explained to my Sous Chef, Jason my new project and that he was going to help lead it.
After he stopped yelling and throwing things at my for consuming more of his already 14 hour long day he almost seemed excited. I know from experience Jason is not afraid to eat some smoked brisket...

We are underway. We are going to contact our purveyor tomorrow and get the meat delivered next week. We will probably use three grades of brisket; choice, select and prime (‘AA’, 'AAA' and prime for all those Canadians out there, eh). Half of each grade we will salt petered and the other half we will brine au natural. My recipe calls for 3 weeks in the brine.

We will do the finally smoking with hickory, applewood and beech.

I will update daily with info and photos (including some really funny pictures I have of Jason!).
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#17 Fat Guy

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 12:01 AM

Chef, the most traditional, best New York Jewish deli-style pastrami is not typically made from brisket. It's made from plate aka navel.

Also it is dry rubbed not brined. Ditto for the smoked meat from Schwartz's in Montreal.

Glad to be able to add additional factors to your experiment. :laugh:

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#18 alanz

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 08:10 AM

The dry rub corning recipe that I use was originally in Cook's Illustrated.

I agree with the Cooks Illustrated staff that a dry rub technique actually yielded better results than brining, and is much much easier.

The recipe and links to my smoked corned beef page can be found if you click here

#19 melkor

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 08:18 AM

The dry rub corning recipe that I use was originally in Cook's Illustrated.

I agree with the Cooks Illustrated staff that a dry rub technique actually yielded better results than brining, and is much much easier.

The recipe and links to my smoked corned beef page can be found if you click here

You'll find that your not-quite-corned-beef/not-quite-pastrami will be turned into pastrami with 2 or 3 hours of steaming. It should be refrigerated overnight before steaming it.

#20 Chef Fowke

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 02:12 AM

Day Two


I am reading what you are writing....

My best results for corned beef come from a wet brine method. It is a lot more time consuming and tricky (spoilage can occur in this process) but the end flavour is superior, you are pickling into the core rather then coating the exterior. I also have a large, industrial kitchen to perform this experiment so I think we should only use the best methods of curing.

I will not use a brisket, I will get Jason to order beef plate (navel).

As well, steaming? Why wouldn't the corned beef be poached in a 'court bouillon like' mixture for three hours to turn it into pastrami and enhance it flavours? Steam does not add any flavour, it just cooks the meat.

I would like to get all these details wrapped up by the end of the weekend. Feedback please, ASAP!

Final note. We need to decide on strict scientific criteria for judging this meat. What are we looking for? How can we set a standard that is useable in everyday food tasting from pastrami to foie gras? Food tasting is so subjective. We need to create a purely scientific means to judge which foods are good or bad on a universal level.

Edited by Chef Fowke, 25 July 2003 - 02:13 AM.

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#21 Fat Guy

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 04:58 AM

My best results for corned beef come from a wet brine method. It is a lot more time consuming and tricky (spoilage can occur in this process) but the end flavour is superior, you are pickling into the core rather then coating the exterior. I also have a large, industrial kitchen to perform this experiment so I think we should only use the best methods of curing.

The question is, is brining the best method of curing if the desired end product is pastrami as opposed to corned beef? The smoking that pastrami undergoes is of course another form of curing, so brining to the core becomes less of an issue -- the meat will get cured no matter what. Traditional deli people seem to believe that, combined with smoking, the dry rub is better for flavor and texture. I wouldn't have any way to know if it's true, but it's the conventional wisdom.

I will not use a brisket, I will get Jason to order beef plate (navel).


The fun part of experiments is that every time you face a choice you get to double the size of the experiment! My understanding is that Montreal delis like Schwartz's use brisket, and New York delis like Katz's use plate. Someone in Montreal will have to confirm that, though.

As well, steaming? Why wouldn't the corned beef be poached in a 'court bouillon like' mixture for three hours to turn it into pastrami and enhance it flavours? Steam does not add any flavour, it just cooks the meat.


The progression with pastrami, as served in a traditional deli, is:

1) Curing
2) Smoking
3) Steaming

The steaming isn't to cook the product per se. The curing and smoking have already accomplished that task. You could make a sandwich after just curing and smoking, and it would be the same old bad deli sandwich you get at a typical convenience-store deli. The steaming is a post-smoking means of loosening up and moistening the meat for service. You can't really poach the already-smoked meat, because it will make it too soggy and wash off too many of the spices -- I think.

I'm not expert here, so let's get confirmation from some of the habitual smokers on the site. Melkor? Klink?

Final note. We need to decide on strict scientific criteria for judging this meat. What are we looking for? How can we set a standard that is useable in everyday food tasting from pastrami to foie gras? Food tasting is so subjective. We need to create a purely scientific means to judge which foods are good or bad on a universal level.


I've been thinking about this since you started the thread. Haven't assembled my thoughts yet, but they'll come eventually.

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#22 alanz

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 07:41 AM

The dry rub technique I outlined calls for piercing the meat many many many times with a pot-fork (good for removing pent up agression too).

Also, the meat put into a plastic bag and placed under weights and turned once a day.

So the corning does reach way down into the meat, just as brining would.

#23 melkor

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 09:41 AM

The steaming isn't to cook the product per se. The curing and smoking have already accomplished that task. You could make a sandwich after just curing and smoking, and it would be the same old bad deli sandwich you get at a typical convenience-store deli. The steaming is a post-smoking means of loosening up and moistening the meat for service. You can't really poach the already-smoked meat, because it will make it too soggy and wash off too many of the spices -- I think.

I'm not expert here, so let's get confirmation from some of the habitual smokers on the site. Melkor? Klink?

I wouldn't count myself as an expert, but I do believe that you are correct. At a bare minimum the spice rub crust would come off in the water.

#24 Fat Guy

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 09:47 AM

Ha! You picked the easiest part of my post to agree with!

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#25 melkor

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 09:57 AM

Ha! You picked the easiest part of my post to agree with!

ofcourse! I'm no dummy.

#26 alanz

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 10:24 AM

You could make a sandwich after just curing and smoking, and it would be the same old bad deli sandwich you get at a typical convenience-store deli.


Why would you think that a piece of meat coming straight off the smoker would be inferior to that which has been steamed to reheat?

I much prefer the meat as it comes off the cooker.

However that's not viable for restaurants, so steaming is a good way to ressurect the meat after cooling. In my home, we vacuum seal my leftovers and bring them to a simmer in the vac bag before serving.

#27 melkor

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 10:41 AM

Why would you think that a piece of meat coming straight off the smoker would be inferior to that which has been steamed to reheat?

I much prefer the meat as it comes off the cooker.

However that's not viable for restaurants, so steaming is a good way to ressurect the meat after cooling.  In my home, we vacuum seal my leftovers and bring them to a simmer in the vac bag before serving.

The steaming isn't to reheat. You have a completely different taste when the meat comes off the cooker than when the same meat comes out of the steamer after 3 hours. The flavors in the rub end up all mixed into the meat as the fat cap melts. The idea is to add moisture and to change the texture of the meat.

#28 alanz

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 05:38 PM

Maybe I'm just spoiled... my cooker is a ceramic device with a lot of thermal mass and very refined air flow control... so it doesn't dry out the meat as much as other cookers do.

I suppose steaming would help some smokers, just as adding plates of water into the smoker helps or is necessary for those other cookers.

Nice to be spoiled. < s >

Edited by alanz, 25 July 2003 - 05:39 PM.


#29 VivreManger

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 06:22 PM

With regard to one detail, Montreal smoked meat is made from a whole brisket.

However I believe that what has been called plate is the same as the Yiddish word "deckel" which I believe is the very well-marbeled crown-like portion on the top of the whole brisket. Thus, if I am correct, Montreal smoked meat uses both the flat somewhat stringy and tougher part of the brisket along with the fattier -- marbeled rather than strands of fat -- plate or deckel portion.

A few weeks ago in Montreal I had both flat smoked meat brisket (from Schwartz's and Snowdon Del) and smoket meat brisket deckel portion from the Main.

As for the court boullion question, as some of you may remember, I have advocated that technique for preparing smoked meat at home. The boullion I prepare contains a variety of the spices found in the original dry rub, along with whatever catches my fancy at the moment.

I suggest the court boullion variation might be included along with the other options -- steaming etc. -- that have been considered.

#30 Fat Guy

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 09:46 PM

Brisket and plate are, I believe, contiguous parts of the underbelly. But I thought deckel in the context of brisket referred to the point cut of the brisket, not to the plate. This is way beyond what I really know, though -- we need an expert to help us out here.

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