April 11, 2013

Homemade Pastrami (from scratch) and a Killer Pastrami Sandwich

Where do I begin ? I have so so much I want to tell you! I feel like I haven't spoken to you guys in a while, like I haven't been giving my all. I have been distracted, especially the last two weeks, I had a thesis to write, which I handed in on Monday. I have my life back and I feel like I can engage with you again!! 

Who decides to take on a two week project of turning beef to corned beef to pastrami...two weeks before their thesis is due?! This final year culinary arts student-I'm reckless...or crazy! In actual fact, it isn't at all hard to make. Yes, it takes time, yes, you have to follow a precise recipe but there is nothing too challenging. I will admit, I simplified the pastrami making process A LOT. Let me explain...(in my own words, with my own understanding of the whole process)...

Pastrami is a brisket of beef that has been brined or 'corned' for several days to make corned beef. This corned beef is then rubbed in a dry spice mixture and smoked over wood chips for hours. Low and slow, slow, slow, for up to 14 hours depending on how thick the beef is. After the smoking process, the pastrami is then rested for a day before being steamed for a further 1-2 hours or until it reaches a specific temperature. 

I'm not going to say this process scared me, but honestly I wasn't bothered with keeping to the traditional method as it was going to take a very long period of time. Not something I had during my thesis writing! After brining the brisket I skipped the smoking and steaming steps  and went straight to a slow cooking process in the oven that took only 6 hours in comparison to 14 hours.

A note on brining, you are preserving the meat and changing the flavour profile. In brining, there is a particular type of salt used called Pink Salt #1 or Pink Salt #2 which is also know as Prague Powder as well as regular salt. These curing or brining salts do two things: they help maintain the bright pink colour of the beef and help prevent the growth of bacteria. I did not use a brining salt in my recipe, I added extra salt instead. I didn't use a curing salt as I was comfortable enough not using one. However, if this is something that freaks you out, by all means buy some-you'll have to look around, ask your butcher, check Fallon & Byrne or buy some online. Just add 2 teaspoons to the brining recipe below. Since the curing salt also maintains the meat's bright pink colour, if you don't use it-like myself- your pastrami will have a pink hue, but more so be tan in colour. If you prefer, buy a corned beef from your butcher and go straight to step 2 below. 


I should say, brisket is a cut of beef, that is in the forequarter of the animal, below the neck and shoulder but before the leg (shank). It's a tough piece of meat and is generally used for brining, boiling or braising. It is one of the lesser used cuts of meat and shouldn't cost too much. It cost me €28 for a four pound brisket from my butcher and it has lasted a very long time, for 5 people. If you are going to make pastrami, I suggest you make more than you think you will want or need, as it takes so long to make and this may be the only time you  make it. It can be frozen after the whole process for 6 weeks wrapped really well in cling film and a ziploc freezer bag. After 2 months the flavour starts to die. It will need to be defrosted for 24-36 hours in a fridge. 

The reward at the end of this long process, is the most beautiful sandwich. Two slices of sourdough bread, sandwiching together a pile of homemade soft, tender, spicy pastrami, topped with melted nutty, slightly sweet Emmental cheese and a picklely, punchy, creamy sauce that oozes over everything. 

I urge you to take on this two week project. If you do please let me know how it goes, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Holly, x

The brine needs to have certain ratio of water to salt, so make sure to follow the recipe below! It has amazing spices, some of which you may already have in your press: chilli flakes, juniper berries, cloves, coriander seeds, celery seeds, peppercorns, fresh garlic, bay leaves, salt and dark brown sugar. 

The brisket of beef is brined for 7-10 days, then you have corned beef. This gets rubbed with the spice mixture below...

...cracked black pepper, smoked paprika, ground coriander, cayenne pepper and garlic powder.

You need to rub the corned beef all over, every crease and crack, with the spice mixture. Get in with your hands to make sure every nook and cranny is coated generously with spices. 

This is then wrapped three times, in strong tin foil, fat side up and cooked in an oven for 6 hours set at 110C.

After 6 hours, remove, cool and refrigerate over night to help the flavours develop and  make  slicing easier.

This is what the pastrami looks like once it is all cooked! 

Place it under a hot grill for a few minutes to crisp up the spices and fat. This process is not for heating the meat through so keep an eye on it-you know your grill best!

On to sandwich preparations: for the Russian dressing, mix together equal parts ketchup, horseradish sauce and mayo with some chopped pickled gherkins and a little of the gherkin juice.

Slice the meat nice and thin, against the meat grain and lay in a single layer on a tray.  Sprinkle with a little water. Place on the bottom shelf of a grill to heat for a minute or so. 

Do you see the spice rub with flecks of black pepper and how moist the pastrami is? It makes this process  sooo unbelievably worth it!

Lay the meat on one slice of bread, top with cheese and melt under the grill.

Generously spread the other slice of bread with the Russian dressing and pop on top of the melty cheese.

Cut in half, serve with pickles, crisps and (I suggest) a cold beer!

Please, don't be put off by the amount of steps below. It is a relatively hassle free two week process and I have given very thorough step-by-step instructions!!

Step 1: Brining Liquid (7-10 days) BEEF TO CORNED BEEF

4 pounds will yield more than 12 generous sandwiches with plenty for mid-week lunches.  The recipe is easily halved: half all the ingredients but keep the brining times and cooking time the same. 

4 Pound 1.5-2 inch thick Beef Brisket
500ml Very Hot Water(just boiled)
1500ml Very Cold Water
150g Maldon Salt or Other Coarse/Rock Salt...not fine table salt or a salt that may have additives. 
4 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Whole Black Pepper Corns
1 Cinnamon Stick
Pinch Chilli Flakes
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon Coriander Seeds
1 Tablespoon Celery Seeds
1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
4 Bay Leaves
4 Garlic Cloves
1 Tablespoon Juniper Berries
2 Teaspoons Cloves

Optionals, things I didn't use
1 Tablespoons Dill Seeds
1 Tablespoon Mustard Seeds
2 Teaspoon Allspice Berries
2 Teaspoon Pink Salt #1 aka Prague Powder (for pink colour and helps kill bacteria)

In a stainless steel pot or a glass, porcelain or food safe plastic vessel* place the garlic and all of the spices.
Pour over 500ml of hot water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.
Pour in the remaining 1500ml of cold water and put in the beef.
Make sure your liquid is completely cold before adding in the beef.
The meat will want to float, so lay a bowl/plate on top. 
Cover with a lid and refrigerate for 7-10 days. Turning the beef every second day-with clean hands (preferably in gloves) or clean utensils. 
After 7-10 days, remove the meat from the brine, rinse under cold water to remove the salt.
Place back into the cleaned out pot or vessel and submerge in water, cover and leave over night (this removes the salt). 
Next day, remove from the water, pat dry with kitchen towel, place in a dish, cover with foil and allow to sit over night in the fridge. 

* It is important to only use  these varieties of vessels to brine your meat, if you use copper, aluminium or non-food safe plastic this will cause the salt to react.

Step Two: Dry Rub (2 days) CORNED BEEF TO PASTRAMI (my easy interpretation!!)

Brined Meat or 1 Butcher bought 3-3.5 Pound Corned Beef (from above)
30g Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
2 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
2 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
A little vegetable oil
Heavy/ Strong Tin Foil-I got this in Tesco. (if you have regular at home, double up every layer)

Remove meat from the fridge 1 hour before you intend to cook it. 
Preheat oven to 110C and place a rack near the bottom.
Mix all the spices together.
Pat dry the meat and rub all over with vegetable oil, this helps the spices stick.
Generously rub the meat all over with the spice rub, getting into every crease and crack.
If you have any spice mix left over, it should not be more than 1/2 tablespoon, so be generous!!
Wrap a piece of strong tinfoil  all around the meat, sealing it in really well, making sure the fat side of the meat is up and the tinfoil fold is underneath.
Wrap in another piece of foil- fat side of the meat down, fold side of the tinfoil up.
Wrap one last time, fat side of the meat up fold side of the tinfoil down.
Doing this ensures the meat will not lose any moisture during cooking through open folds in the tinfoil. 
Place the meat fat side up in an oven dish (this time, any kind) and cook at 110C for 6 hours.
Ensuring the meat is fat side up, means as it cooks the fat will melt and moisten the meat. 
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Refrigerate over night-this will help the flavour and make the slicing of the meat a lot easier. 
The next day, preheat a grill to hot and place the meat 4-6 inches below the grill for 3-5 minutes to crisp the exterior-the inside will still be cold. 


Below is the recipe, without measurements as you can put as much pastrami/cheese/Russian dressing on your sambo! 

Homemade Pastrami, thinly sliced (oh yeah baby!)
Emmental Cheese
Sour Dough/Rye Bread
Russian Dressing*


Pre heat the grill.
Slice the pastrami as thin as you can...against the meat grain, lay on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a little water and place in the bottom of the grill to heat a tiny bit.
Remove, pile onto one slice of bread, cover with slices of Emmental cheese.
Pop under the grill to melt.
Spread the remaining slice of bread generously with Russian dressing.
Once the cheese on the pastrami is melted, pop on the lid and cut in half.
Serve with a pickle, some crisps and a cold beer.
Well deserved!

*Russian Dressing

Tomato Ketchup
Horseradish Sauce
Picked Gherkins, chopped
Pickled gherkin juice

Mix equal parts ketchup, horseradish sauce and mayo together-change according to your taste buds.
Chop up some gherkins and stir in along with with a little pickled juice to thin it. 


  1. Holly, tried this. What a deadly combination of flavours. The meat was like butter it was so soft and very flavoursome. Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much! really glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I have tried making pastrami and i was disappointed with the result. I have read other recipes but I think this one is workable for me. I will try it and inform you of the result later. Thanks.

    1. Great to hear..I hope it works for you...takes time but it's defo worth it. Can't wait to hear the results!