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Pastrami News


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I hear you, concerning the importance of steaming the pastrami correctly. What caught my eye, in the Ed Levine write-up on pastrami, was the Ben's Best owner's comment that their deli steams the pastrami for up to 6 hours, before being trimmed & sliced. Now you say here, that there was write-up about Langer's in LA, stating that they steam their pastrami for about twice as long as the average deli. I asked my smoked meat contact yesterday, about the six hour figure, & he told me that it's ridiculous(2-3 hours the best for smoked meat). So proper steaming of pastrami, might need further investigating.

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Steve

I don't know about proper steaming, whatever that might be, but Fat Guy is right. The Langer's pastrami, served BTW on great bread, just falls apart deliciously in your mouth.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Some months ago I contributed a thread concerning the proper home preparation of Montreal smoked meat. Since it does apply to this discussion of the affinage of NY pastrami as well I include the reference for those curious.

There are two major differences between what I did and what, I believe, restaurants generally do or should do.

First, to heat the product -- in this case it had been frozen -- I prepare a court bouillon of various spices (detailed in the original posting). This is clearly necessary for the revival of the once frozen meat , but I suspect it should also be done for the fresh product. I don't think delis typically do this, but if they did it could make a marked difference from deli to deli even if they all had the same purveyor.

Second, I don't think I have ever steamed it as long as Langer's et al. I should be in Montreal next month and I plan to pick up some more meat. Perhaps a four hour steam bath might make Montreal smoked meat gain the soft consistency of NY pastrami, beloved by denture wearers and others, but I have never had it that way. It is worth an experiment to examine the results.

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Schwartz's, The Main, Abbie's make their own Smoked Meat in Montreal. Many others do also.

Not only that, many restaurants in Montreal that serve smoked meat be it industrially made in a major food processor or made in the back cut their briskets by hand. All the more known deli's cut their meat by hand.

Machine slicing Smoked Meat/Pastrami is barbaric.

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Schwartz's, The Main, Abbie's make their own Smoked Meat in Montreal.  Many others do also.

Not only that, many restaurants in Montreal that serve smoked meat be it industrially made in a major food processor or made in the back cut their briskets by hand.  All the more known deli's cut their meat by hand.

Machine slicing Smoked Meat/Pastrami is barbaric.

Besides these three, who else makes their own smoked meat(at this moment I could only think of Lesters)?

-----------

Steve

Edited by SteveW (log)
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  • 1 month later...

I finally made it to Ben's Best today. It's a great old neighborhood Jewish deli in Rego Park. The pastrami is excellent, but I think it would be a stretch -- a long, credibility-defying stretch -- to say it's in the Katz's category.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you like smoked meat you need to go to Montreal and try Schwartz's.

My wife went to McGill University while I worked as a chef in Toronto. I do not think it was any coincidence that I always drove/flew/took the train out to Montreal on the weekends to see her. It was for my weekly feast at Schwartz, a non-descript, dirty hole in the wall with the best smoked meat in the world (with the exception of a small deli in Tel Aviv I do not remember the name of).

The best part of the experience at Schwartz's is how cocky they are about there meat. They plop down a half loaf of white bread on your table, the smoked meat (hand shaven; you have three choices; fatty, regular or lean) and a bottle of mustard. You are crammed at a table with at least 15 other strangers and are 'allow' you 20 minutes to eat the beautiful morsels of food, pay and get out. I usually would be really pissed off, but this is the best and I have to tolerate it...

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Chef Fowke,

I have been going to Schwartzs for at least the last fifty years. The one thing you will NEVER find there is white bread. The pile of bread given with their smoked meat platters and used in their smoked meat sandwiches is rye. Admittedly not the best rye bread, but rye bread nevertheless. You are as likely to be served a smoked meat sandwich on white bread at Schwartzs, as you are one served with mayonnaise with a glass of milk. Zero - Nada.

Porkpa

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I guess it's my turn to contribute to this thread.

In the 70's, we used to live a couple of blocks from Pastrami King... and they made a very respectable pastrami sandwich.

Now that my wife and I live in NJ, and do quite a bit of outdoor cooking, we make our own pastrami.

Well, let me qualify that a bit. We make our own smoked corned beef (which, to my understanding, is fundamentally what a pastrami is.)

The advantage we have is that we buy a full brisket (12-15lbs) and do a dry corning technique (found in Cook's Illustrated, from a couple of years ago) that takes about 7 days in the refrigerator.

The reason I consider this an advantage is that I can start with great meat (usually prime grade) and control exactly what goes into the corning spices.

I don't use any saltpeter or other nitrates/nitrites. An interesting side note is that the only reason corned beef is pink is that the consumers seem to demand it. The companies that make commercial corned beef have found that only New Englanders will buy brown colored corned beef, so that's the only place they sell it... everyone else gets saltpeter or other additives to make the meat pink.

One the meat has corned for a week, I coat it with ground spices (black pepper, coriander seed, and/or whatever I'm in the mood for) and smoke it for about 18 hours at 225-250 degrees F.

Because this is an entire brisket, both cuts are involved. The "first cut" (also called the "flat") is what you'll always see in the supermarket. It's lean, and tends to be dry if made from a commercial corned beef. The thicker "second cut" (also called the "point" or "deckel" cut) is fattier, and incredibly flavorful. Good Jewish delis usually make sandwiches that have slices from both the first and the second cuts, yielding a tasty sandwich.

With all this talk about steaming a pastrami... I think folk are missing one of the great taste treats... eating a pastrami that has just come off the cooker (rather than one that's been steam reheated later).

Another truly wonderful thing about smoking an entire corned beef brisket is that you can take the fattier slices from the second cut, and grill or pan fry them. You get something that has some of the same qualities/texture as bacon, and the crispy bits are amazing!

I've got a couple of pages on my own web site that describe the very simple process of corning a brisket, and then smoking the meat. If anyone wants more information, I'll be happy to provide it.

Even if you don't have a cooker that can handle the smoking part of the project, learning to corn your own brisket is very much worth the effort.

So, the secret to great pastrami... in my opinion, is start with great meat, control the corning process, and smoke it slowly over low heat.

You don't know what you're missing until you've tasted it

Edited by alanz (log)
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Schwartz's, The Main, Abbie's make their own Smoked Meat in Montreal.  Many others do also.

Not only that, many restaurants in Montreal that serve smoked meat be it industrially made in a major food processor or made in the back cut their briskets by hand.  All the more known deli's cut their meat by hand.

Machine slicing Smoked Meat/Pastrami is barbaric.

Besides these three, who else makes their own smoked meat(at this moment I could only think of Lesters)?

-----------

Steve

I should correct myself now. Lester's don't make their own Montreal smoked meat. They like people to think so.

------------

Steve

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I finally made it to Ben's Best today. It's a great old neighborhood Jewish deli in Rego Park. The pastrami is excellent, but I think it would be a stretch -- a long, credibility-defying stretch -- to say it's in the Katz's category.

Steven, where would you rank Ben's Best pastrami at this point? A distant #2 or #3, if I were to guess. What kind of operating hours does Ben's Best have? If they are open 24 hours a day for example, it might not be wise to order pastrami during off peak hours(the steaming issue is very very important in getting a great pastrami sandwich).

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Steve

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I wouldn't give it any ranking -- it's just a very good deli. Even talking about it as though it's a serious contender for top deli ranking would be a mistake, in my opinion. I think this is just an Ed Levine misfire; maybe he got swept away by the allure of being able to champion an unknown place -- it's probably not as satisfying to write an encyclopedic pastrami article if all you're going to do is reiterate what everybody already knows about Katz's being the best. Certainly the pastrami at Artie's, Second Avenue, Carnegie, et al., is better than at Ben's, or they're all in some sort of "excellent-but-not-the-best machine-sliced pastrami" grouping together, trailing substantially behind Katz's.

I don't think it's a 24-hour place. It's just a neighborhood deli. But we were there at peak lunch hour on a weekend so there's little doubt we got a freshly steamed piece.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Slkinsey: It's the same phenomenon that arises when you're the best in any category: people can't stand it, especially people who write about the category for a living. It's no fun to say, "Yes, Katz's is the best. No, there's really no close second. It's just the best. No, I have no secret special places to tell you about that we deli experts keep to ourselves. I could tell you some places, but they wouldn't actually be great. You just like the idea of going to a place other than Katz's on the off-chance it might turn out to be better. But it wouldn't turn out to be better." But if it's the truth, you've just got to say it and be unapologetic about it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But, FG... it can be so much fun to make fun of these people when they do that... :biggrin:

Jason, I know exactly what you're saying. Since I find myself in North Carolina and Texas on a fairly regular basis, this is the precise reason I never eat barbeque in NYC.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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Pixel: They're in the same category of super-excellence. The first time I went to Schwartz's I thought it was excellent but not on par with Katz's. Then, the one time I did a side-by-side (yes I actually had someone drive some down from Montreal), I liked Katz's better. But the last time I was at Schwartz's, I had a truly fantastic sandwich that may have been better than any I've had at Katz's. And of course I've had sandwiches at Katz's that have covered a range of quality, as one would expect with any small-batch/natural/handmade/artisanal/whatever product. And that Snowdon Deli in Montreal is pretty fantastic as well, also in the same category, at least based on tastings a few years back (for all I know it's not even there anymore).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks Steven.

I'm always quite amazed by your ability to remain objective when it comes to reviewing/critiquing food. Even though you're obviously a consummate New Yorker, you're still quite able and willing to give everyone their fair shot as opposed to remaining "loyal" to any given restaurant simply because it is based in the city you live.

To be totally honest, if someone were to ask me whether the Canadian wine is better here in Ontario or in British Columbia, I would quite automatically claim Ontario as far superior when in all likelihood they are probably quite equal. I lack the ability to remain objective. :hmmm:

I guess that is probably where the 'professional' aspect comes into play.

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Pixel, it's not so much a question of professionalism. Trying to be open-minded/independent is more of a personality issue. After all, we're just talking about pastrami. It's not rocket science. It's not even wine-tasting. Any idiot, with a minimum of experience, can taste two examples of pastrami or smoked-meat and know immediately which one is better, or at least be able to describe the desirable attributes of each (this one is juicier; that one is spicier). It doesn't require years of training or any special skills -- that's the beauty of being a food writer! And on a related point, you don't have to be a genius to make good pastrami. The most confounding thing about this whole issue is that there's no good reason why anybody, tomorrow, couldn't go into business and make pastrami that's just as good as Katz's or just as good as Schwartz's smoked-meat. As Alanz has indicated, and as Col. Klink will tell you, and as anyone on the barbecue-and-smoking Usenet boards will confirm, any idiot can make excellent pastrami with a little bit of training. It's not quite as easy as making a hamburger or a hot dog, but I'm similarly unimpressed with any place that can't muster up the competence to make a great one of either. And given that people are willing to pay something like ten bucks for a really good pastrami sandwich, you'd think a few more entrepreneurs would get it through their thick skulls that there's money to be made selling the good stuff, properly cured, carefully smoked, slowly steamed, and hand-sliced. Even at Katz's and Schwartz's, what's their excuse for that crap bread they serve? And the mustard isn't so great either. There's plenty of room for improvement, even at the top.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Pixel, it's not so much a question of professionalism. Trying to be open-minded/independent is more of a personality issue. After all, we're just talking about pastrami. It's not rocket science. It's not even wine-tasting. Any idiot, with a minimum of experience, can taste two examples of pastrami or smoked-meat and know immediately which one is better, or at least be able to describe the desirable attributes of each (this one is juicier; that one is spicier). It doesn't require years of training or any special skills -- that's the beauty of being a food writer!

But it is so much more beautiful to read an article from a food writer who has an IQ over 120! It shows in the writing, the professionalism and the open-mindedness of the articles. It is easy to write about things that are close to your heart. It is hard to be objective and truthful, as you seem to be, Steven.

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Just a quick note. While you have been talking about it, I just back from a short visit to Montreal and Quebec where I have been eating it.

I sampled old fashioned smoked meat sandwiches at Snowdon Del, Schwartz's, and also bought some take-out old fashioned smoked meat from Schwartz's and the competition directly across the street for those fed up with the long-lines at lunch, the Main.

In brief in Montreal, Schwartz's remains the best, the Main is certainly respectable, though not as good. Snowdon Del, which I have long enjoyed since it is convenient to the family, is, for smoked meat, a distant competitor. Better than Ben's to be sure, which has the oldest smoked meat in Montreal and sure tastes like it.

Snowdon Del stopped smoking their own briskets about 10 to 15 years ago so the current manager of this family business, Jon Marantz, told me. They now use Lester's Old Fashioned smoked meat which he claims is made according to their distinct specifications!! He also insisted that their Lester version of the meat differs significantly from what Lester's normally makes. Just reporting what I have been told. I can offer no independent assessment of this at this moment. It will have to wait till my next trip.

Snowdon Del does have great smoked eggplant salad and good chopped liver with killer sauted onions.

After I recover from all this and other eating, I will post my asssessments of the Mtl old fashioned smoked meat I had. Unfortunately it has been too many years since I ate my last pastrami at Katz's and I have never eaten it regularly enough to form a clear basis for a trusty comparison so I can't join that fray.

I do have other classic pastrami sandwiches clearly preserved in my taste buds. The best of these -- unfortunately long-gone -- was the great thick hand-cut Rumanian hot pastrami sandwich made by Elsie Bauman and her husband -- two German Jewish refugees who after the Second World War established Elsie's in Harvard Square. Schwartz's is a spicier, albeit slightly tougher version, of that sandwich. However neither the bread nor the mustard is as good as what Elsie offered. Unfortunately Elsie's has been out of business for close to 20 or 30 years. And even before the deli finally closed, they stopped making my favorite sandwich.

Edited by VivreManger (log)
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Something that needs to be made clear VivreManger, is that there're two Lester's companies in the Montreal smoked meat business. The commercial meat supplier(that's where the Snowdon Deli, would have their smoked meat made, if the Snowdon Deli's owner claims are true). And there's the Lester's Deli located on Bernard Street for several decades. These two Lester's are unrelated. That why in my recent posting in this thread, I said that 'Lester's [Deli] don't make their own Montreal smoked meat. They like people to think so.'

------------

Steve

Edited by SteveW (log)
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Um, my wife just reminded me that I have never eaten at Schwartz's sober. I find this hard to be true, my wife went to University of McGill for five years and I drove out every second weekend. I must have been sober at least once! She keeps referring to Sangria in Old Montreal and wine on Rue St Denis....

I guess I need to bow out of this thread.

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Doesn't Chicago have some great pastrami, at a couple of their deli's? Maybe LA is another place.

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Steve

Yes Chicago dose have a couple of places for great Pastrami. The sad thing is most buy it made by either Best Kosher or Vienna Beef. So the same thing is served with mustard ad bread being the wildcards. Manny’s used to make their own in house but I think they stopped a while ago. A couple of places on Milwaukee Av still do and the lines are long.

NY is still king in my book. The water in Chicago has too much calcium and other minerals that change the taste.

Living hard will take its toll...
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