Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beef Pastrami

Spices for the brine

Mixing spices with the brine
Brining the brisket in a bag

Ground pepper and juniper berries

Brisket encrusted with ground pepper and juniper berries

Smoking the brisket
Getting ready to slice the brisket

Beautiful ribbons of flavorful and aromatic pastrami

Beef Pastrami

So, you may ask, “What brought this about?”  My mother-in-law did.  She knows I like to cook and make stuff (like bacon).  She asked me how long I’ve wanted to make pastrami.  I said, “Oh, a number of years now.”  I printed the recipe almost two years ago but was intimidated by the length of time involved.   When I explained that the brisket is brined for 3 weeks, smoked for 4 hours, and boiled for 2 hours, she exclaimed, “I have new respect for pastrami!”  Who would want to do this when it’s so easy to pick up a package from the grocery store or the deli?  People like you and me because we don’t just like to eat; we want to get to get to know our food at an intimate level.  We want to know how it’s made, and how it feels to make it.
This recipe is adapted from Food Network (Emeril Lagasse, 1999).
Beef Pastrami
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dried thyme
6 bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons whole cloves
¼ cup minced garlic
2 teaspoons whole juniper berries, plus 1/3 cup crushed juniper berries
16 cups (about 4 quarts) water
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¾ kosher salt
1 beef brisket (4-5 pounds)
2/3 cup coarsely ground pepper
1.        Combine the peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, garlic and whole juniper berries in a skillet.  Over low-medium heat and stirring constantly, dry roast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2.       In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the water, brown sugar and salt.  Bring it to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Remove from the heat and add dry spice mixture and steep for 1 hour.
3.       Place the brisket in a glass or plastic container.  Pour the seasoned brine to cover the brisket completely.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 weeks, turning the brisket every couple of days.
4.       Preheat the smoker.
5.       Combine the crushed juniper berries and ground black pepper in a shallow dish.  Using the palm and heel of your hand, press two-thirds of the berry and pepper mixture into the brisket.  Press the remaining mixture into the other side.
6.       Place the brisket in the smoker and smoke for about 4 hours.  Remove from the smoker and cool for 30 minutes.
7.       Place the brisket in a large Dutch oven, cover with water and place over medium heat.  Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for two hours.
8.       Remove from the pan and cool completely.  Slice into thin slices and serve.
The other reason it took me so long to make this was that I could not find juniper berries.  I finally did find it at Whole Foods: $3.25 for a 0.2 oz sachet of organic whole juniper berries.  I had to buy about 7 sachets.  Hmmmm, plus about $20 for the brisket.  No wonder these deli meats are so expensive! 
Tip #1: One of the steps I added to this recipe was to dry roast the spices.  Cooking with Indian food has taught me that dry roasting spices heats the oils in the spices and enhances their flavor.  Oh, and the fragrance!  If you close your eyes you’d think you were in the middle of the spice market in Marrakesh!
Tip #2:  Whenever a recipe calls for marinating, I use re-sealable plastic bags because I can get all the air out, and the food will always be submerged/surrounded by the brine.  Be sure to double or triple the bags so that even if the first bag leaks you won’t have a mess in the fridge.  The thicker “freezer” bags work best.
Tip #3:  Crushed juniper berries?  Emeril didn’t say how to do that.  Chopping them by hand would’ve resulted in little juniper berries all over the kitchen floor.  So I used my coffee grinder like I do for my other spices.  It’s fast and the ground spices are in one space.  Since I can’t wash the grinder I clean it by grinding uncooked rice in between spices.  Juniper berries have a “piney” fragrance as they are products of conifers.  Did you know that gin is made from juniper berries?
Tip #4:  No smoker?  No problem.  I don’t have one either so I use my Weber kettle grill.  By banking the lit charcoal on one side of the grill and the food on the other side, it works just as well.  See picture above.  Again, Emeril didn’t specify what wood to use.  Since I was working with beef, I excluded apple which I use for my bacon.  I thought the mesquite might be too strong, so I decided on hickory.
Tip #5:  I refrigerated the cooked and cooled brisket overnight before slicing.  This ensured that the meat was compact making it easier to slice.
I was giddy with excitement!  I sliced the entire brisket before tasting one of the scraps – it was amazing!!  The flavor was so complex yet I was able to pick out the individual tastes of the ground pepper, juniper berries, and smoke.  It wasn’t spicy or salty.  None of the ingredients overpowered the others; it was like a symphony of flavors on my tongue!!   The pictures don't do it any justice; you just have to taste it.  And it was certainly well worth the time and effort to make this. 
Finally, what am I going to do with 3 ½ lbs of homemade pastrami?  A lot of Pastrami on Rye sandwiches for starters.
What dish have you eaten impressed you so much that you had to make it yourself?

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