The cut of meat that is called for in the classic, traditional, real, honest-to-New York Deli-delicious pastrami is a part of the flank of the beef animal. Not that part of the flank that is called flank steak. That is a thin, oblong muscle that treated right is perfect for "London Broil" and
stir fry dishes, but not for pastrami.
The part of the flank used for pastrami might best be described as the tail of the T-bone. It's the belly portion of the beef carcass, below the short loin, sometimes left on the T-bone and Porterhouse steaks when they are
cut. Maybe that's why we so seldom see the flank used for pastrami. Butchers can make more money selling it at steak prices.
The idea of making my own pastrami had honestly not occurred to me until several months ago when a friend, Joyce Goldstein, who is chef/owner of the justly popular "Square One" restaurant in San Francisco, called and said: ''I'd like to offer a really good New York-style pastrami at the restaurant; do you have a recipe I could experiment with?" At the time, I didn't have, but times change. Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with one of the most highly respected food technologists in the country, Dr. A. Wade Brant, Emeritus Food Technologist, University of California, Davis, and author of "The Sausage Maker's Handbook." I asked Dr. Brant if he had a recipe for home-cured pastrami. "I think I might be able to help you out," he said. A few days later I received the following:
1 4 1/2-5 pound slab of beef flank
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sodium nitrate (saltpeter) see note
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/4 cup peppercorns, cracked
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
Trim the meat of any excessive outside fat, but don't trim the fat all away. Leave at least a 1/4-inch covering. Pat the meat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Combine salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and ginger in a mixing bowl. Put the coriander seeds and peppercorns in a heavy plastic bag (Ziploc bags work well) and crush them using a mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet. Add to the other ingredients in the bowl. Add the minced garlic, blend all together thoroughly.
Rub the mixed ingredients well into the meat on all sides. Put the meat into a heavy plastic bag and seal. Place the bag in a large tray and refrigerate. Turn the bag over once a day. Let the meat cure for eight days.
Remove the meat from the bag, and drain off the liquid. Save the solid seasonings and discard the liquid. Pat the seasonings back into the meat. Using a large needle, run a string through the meat at two corners and tie the ends of each string together to form two loops. Hang the meat in a cool, dry drafty place. An electric fan can be used to circulate the air. Let the meat dry for 24 hours. It's important that the surface of the meat be well- dried to receive the smoke properly.
Hang the meat in a smoker and smoke for 3 to 3 1/2 hours at 150-160 degrees.
Let cool and refrigerate.
To serve, slice as thinly as possible across the grain of the meat.
Note: Saltpeter: It's an interesting, if somewhat sad commentary on our times that saltpeter (sodium or potassium nitrate), once available in any drugstore in the country, is now a little hard to find. Any druggist can and probably will order it for you but few are apt to have it on hand. "I don't like to carry it," my local druggist told me. "It's one of the things people use to make explosives."
A more modern product that works well, if not better, than saltpeter is ''Complete Cure with Sugar" made by Heller and Co. Simply substitute 1 cup (8 ounces) "Complete Cure" for the salt, sugar and sodium nitrate in the above recipe and adjust the curing time according to the thickness of the meat - one day in the cure for each 1/4-inch of thickness.
If you have any problem finding B. Heller's "Complete Cure with Sugar" in your local butcher's supply store, I'll be happy to send you some of mine. For a 1 pound bag, send $1.50 plus $1 for postage and handling. Please send check or money order to Butcher Supplies, P.O. Box 907, Tiburon, CA 94920.