In Praise of Pastrami

pastrami sandwich When we decided to open a butcher shop in St. Paul, I knew that we were going to have a pastrami sandwich on our menu. I also knew that this was going to be the most difficult sandwich to execute (cue dramatic music). Much has been written and said about the state of the humble pastrami sandwich here in Minnesota and there was no way we were going to head down that path.

I grew up on the East Coast and NY deli pastrami sandwiches were part of my upbringing. Sure, we weren’t going to be competing with Katz’s sandwich, but I wanted to offer something that would be evocative of the sandwiches of my youth. It took us over 6 months to get it right and we cut it so close to opening that I wasn’t sure that we would actually open the doors with our sandwich ready to go!

The first big decision we had to make was whether to use a wet brine versus dry rub. And here’s the thing: each brisket cures for a minimum of two weeks, which means each time you need to make an adjustment you have to wait a long time to see how your changes turned out. It’s a lot like navigating a giant cargo ship instead of driving a zippy little sports car. After a month and a half we knew that we wanted the dry cure—bigger, bolder flavors.

Once we’d settled on the cure it was on to the length of cure. Too short and the cure doesn’t penetrate the meat enough. Too long and you just have salted beef. Sixteen days ended up being the magical number. A side note: because we selected the dry rub, we have to flip our 100 pound batch of brisket everyday during those 16 days! I think Brisket Flipping is part of the CrossFit regimen, no?

Adding smoke turned out to be the easiest part of the recipe. Two hours luxuriating in the smoker is perfect for our pastrami. And sorry, we’re not going to tell you what kind of wood we use (that's a secret!). And of course, the last step is cooking. That time and methodology was also tricky to figure out and is another detail we're keeping under our hats for now.

Our pastrami sandwich is served very simply, on toasted rye bread that's custom-made to our specifications, with a little house-made brown mustard. These three simple ingredients mean we can't hide any mistakes. We'd love to hear your feedback! I know I'm biased, but if I could marry this sandwich, I think I would.

--Benjamin Roberts, Manager-In-Chief of both our Meat and Cheese Shops