Pure Pastrami Perfection, The Sous-Vide-Que Method

Sous vide and smoke are the keys to pastrami that rivals that served at New York's best delis.

Every St. Patrick's Day, countless Americans celebrate by donning green apparel and enjoying even greener beer. But while they are busy getting green at the gills at the corner pub, I'm at the store stocking up on discounted packages of corned beef.

For many folks, these pre-cured corned beef briskets are a once a year indulgence to be cooked alongside some cabbage and potatoes. For me, however, they are a gateway to what I affectionately refer to as "Jewish barbecue" or pastrami. If you like Reuben sandwiches made with corned beef, you have to try them with pastrami.

In the article "Pastranomy: Close to Katz's Home Made Pastrami Recipe", Meathead shares his recipe for transforming corned beef into pastrami, first by desalinating the meat, then by coating it with a peppery spice blend, and finally smoking and steaming it to Katz-like quality. 

While I have had great success with his recipe, I wondered if I could make it even better by using the sous-vide-que method. The result? It took some trial and error to dial in the various steps, but to my tastebuds the final product was better than anything to be found at New York's best delicatessens. The sous vide method thoroughly breaks down tough connective tissues in the meat, creating rich-tasting collagen that also helps keep the meat moist. Equally appealing is convenience factor as sous vide cooking is completely hands off compared to having to tend a fire for 10+ hours when doing pastrami completely on the smoker or grill.

Note that like our sous-vide-que brisket recipe found here, the sous vide water temperature of 155°F and cooking time of 30 hours has been devised devised based on J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's extensive study found here

Before trying this recipe, note that the meat is flash chilled after sous viding it. Chefs often include this step to prepare dishes ahead of time, chill them, and then finish them as soon as an order comes in to the kitchen. You could also make this dish ahead, but the real purpose of flash chilling here is to cool the meat enough so that it can then absorb plenty of flavorful smoke as it slowly reheats on the grill.

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Sliced Sous Vide Que Pastrami

This recipe combines Meathead's amazing Pastrami recipe with the sous vide technique to produce wonderfully tender and moist meat that is better than anything you'll find in New York's best delis.


Course. Lunch. Dinner. Entree. Sandwich.

Cuisine. American. Jewish.

Makes. 4 to 6 sandwiches

Takes. 30 hours to sous vide; approximately 90 minutes to smoke.

Special tools. Sous vide immersion circulator. One gallon sealable freezer bag.

Serve with. Guinness beer.

Ingredients

1 package uncooked corned beef brisket, about 3 to 4 pounds

3 tablespoons pastrami rub

Method

1) Prep. Put the corned beef in a pot slightly larger than the meat and cover it with cold water. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours in order to remove excess salt from the meat. If you can, change the water once or twice.

2) Prepare a sous vide immersion circulator, such as Joule by ChefSteps, according to the manufacturer's instructions and set the water temperature for 155°F.

3) Remove the desalinated corned beef from the pot and place in a gallon-size sealable freezer bag. Carefully submerge the freezer bag in the water bath until most of the air has been removed and then seal the bag as in the video below. Once bag is submerged, cook the corned beef for 30 hours.

4) Fill a large container with a 50/50 mix of ice and water. Place the bag of sous vided corned beef in the ice water for 30 to 60 minutes to quickly reduce the meat's core temperature to 34 to 38ºF. Place the meat in the refrigerator until ready to smoke (up to two days ahead of time).

5) Fire up. Fire up your smoker to 225°F or prepare a grill for 2-zone cooking and get the indirect side to about  225°F. If you are using a gas grill, simply turn off the burners on one half of the grill for indirect cooking, adjust the grill temperature to approximately 225°F, then add a smoker box or smoking wood pouch according to manufacturer's instructions for the full smoke flavor. Use lots of wood.

6) Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

7) Remove meat from the freezer bag. Cut off any extra fat. Pat the surface dry with paper towels and season generously all over with the dry rub mixture, 

8) Cook. Place the meat in your smoker or on the cooler side of the grill as far from the heat source as possible. Allow the meat to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 125°F, about 1 hour. Note that the pastrami is already perfectly cooked from the sous vide step. The goal is to add smoke to the meat while reheating it to a temperature that is pleasant when served.

9) Serve. Remove the pastrami from the grill, wrap it in a double layer of foil, and allow it to sit for 1 hour before unwrapping and slicing against the natural grain of the meat. May I recommend a Rockin Reuben Sandwich?

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"Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."Milton Berle

Clint Cantwell

Clint Cantwell is AmazingRibs.com's Senior Vice President, charged with creating recipes, writing articles, shooting photos, and a little bit of everything else. Cantwell was was named one of the "10 Faces of Memphis Barbecue" by Memphis Magazine and was the winner of Travel Channel's "American Grilled: Memphis".

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