We don’t even have a butcher shop in town (yet), so it’s not like I can safely expect a Jewish deli. But man, I do love a Jewish deli. Katz’ in New York City is justifiably famous for its pastrami, and I can attest to it being worth a visit if you’re ever in the Big Apple. Unfortunately, my most recent true exposure to the genre is a visit nearly two years ago (sniff, sigh) to Protzel’s Deli in St. Louis (pictured above). It’s a wonderful place tucked away in a neighborhood in Clayton. Nothing even remotely close to it exists in Columbia. But corned beef, pastrami…that’s just well-prepared brisket. Anyone can do that, right? Jury’s out, but here’s how my first attempt went.
I started with a whole, 10-lb. brisket from Show Me Farms. You can find them at the Columbia Farmers Market on Saturdays. To make it more manageable I cut it in half and from there it was a three day brine soak – recipe from the mandatory book, “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. At this point it’s basically corned beef. You get pastrami by rubbing the corned beef/brisket with a mixture of coriander and black pepper, then smoking it for a few hours and then steaming until tender.
After about three hours on the smoker at 250-degrees or so it looked like this:
Looks good, right? It’s not done. Not, as it turns out, by a long shot. Into a 275-degree oven it went. For three more hours it steamed away between a water bath and aluminum foil. Dinner time rolled around and the house smelled amazing. Unfortunately, while fully cooked, the brisket was nowhere near the tender stage. What we had was sandwich-shredding rawhide. Not bad with a fork and knife, though. Back into the oven it went. And after another two or three hours at 275, we hit the magic 185-degree mark where brisket gets really, really happy. Voila!
Did I have a Meg Ryan moment? No. Next time I’ll trim the fat to get better seasoning into the meat and cook it right the first time. But it still, it beat anything else I’ve had in town.