At my house, St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally celebrated with corned beef, cabbage, and all the trimmings. Since this year’s invasion of the coronavirus is like no other, I went off in a completely different direction. This year I tried my hand at pastrami making.
I began without much of a clue. All I really knew was that corned beef and pastrami were similar, but I wasn’t certain how they differed. Turns out, pastrami has evolved, but not via Ireland. They are both frequently brined with spices, but pastrami further includes a final rub and smoking process.
Historically, pastrami’s roots stem from the Ottoman Turks where mutton, goat, and beef were preserved in salt and rubbed with spices. It made its way via the spice route to Romania where it became a favored process in preserving goose. When immigrating to America, Romanians brought the technique with them. Ultimately, it would transition to cheaper beef cuts, and pastrami would become a staple in New York delicatessens.
Notoriously tough brisket and rounds of beef require long cooking to tenderize. Because I wanted a firm but not mushy texture for slicing, this was a major factor in my pastrami making. Rather than the usual boil, I elected to steam the meat in the multicooker at high pressure.
With that settled, I selected a thick 3½ pound corned beef brisket that would fit in the pot I had available. No boiling meant I would first need to desalinate. I settled on 4 hours of presoaking time, with a change of water every hour. The brisket was then sealed in the multicooker and steamed for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, I developed a rub that would flavor the meat prior to the final smoking process. I toasted and ground black peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds. After that, ground coriander, mustard and smoked paprika, garlic powder, sugar and salt were also added for faster absorption into the meat.
When cooled, I pressed the rub into the meat and let it air dry. Then, it was loosely covered to protect but allow air circulation—and refrigerated overnight. I turned the meat 2-3 times, and by the following afternoon it was ready to smoke.
I packed my tiny grill with a supply of coals for indirect heat and 2 foil wrapped pouches of wood chips for smoking. After 30 minutes and a couple of turns on the grill, I moved the remaining coals about and gave the pastrami a final 5-minute sear.
This is where I failed. I could not leave it alone. It looked good but I wanted to see what it was doing inside! So excited, I grabbed a serrated knife (what was I thinking?) and nearly ripped it apart. Yes, it was so good, I kept at it and hacked away!!
(Sigh) Lesson learned. Let it rest, as you would a fine steak, and then cut. With all that cooking, it will be cooked, and very nicely done!
Pastrami from Brined Corned Beef
3½ pound package corned beef (uncooked)
2 Tbsp mixed peppercorns
2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole mustard seeds
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp brown sugar
- Soak the corned beef. Cover corned beef with water; soak 4-6 hours, change water 2-3 times.
- Trim. Remove all but ⅛” fat layer and any silver.
- Steam. In multicooker, pour in 1 cup water, add trivet and place meat on rack. Set to Hi Pressure, steam 90 mins. Rest 10 minutes and release pressure. It should be fork tender, internal temperature at least 145°F (steamed in PC, likely 200°F. ) Drain and cool.
- Rub & Refrigerate. Press moist meat surfaces liberally with rub; less on thinner areas. Refrigerate 1-2 days, let air circulate.
- Smoke the pastrami. Create a bed of coals around the perimeter of the grill. Makes 2 small foil packets of wood chips and poke a few holes. When coals are hot, place the packets against the coals. Cover and and allow smoke to form. Add beef and smoke approximately 30 minutes over indriect heat. Move coals to center of grill, and sear the meal well for 5-8 minutes.
- Rest. Let pastrami rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. Refrigerate and seal well. It is even better the next day.