Pastrami, How to Make Homemade Beef Brisket in Juniper Brine
I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, and one of my favorite places on Earth is New York City. It was there that I discovered wood-fired pizza, creme brulee, and the Jewish Deli. Enraptured, I tried repeatedly to capture the flavors I found in the delicatessens - and couldn't! Woe! Disaster! For years I simply remembered the intense flavors and avoided the pale imitations so as not to cloud the memories.
Then I stumbled across an antique cookbook with a large section on brining and preserving meats. I was of course familiar with the preservation methods used in my Appalachian South - mainly salting, smoking and canning. Pickling meats I had heard of - but the information had never really percolated. I realized that pickled meats would include the two pinnacles of delicatessen Heaven - Corned Beef and Pastrami. I tried corned beef first - with amazing success. It was so easy! Make a brine, submerge a hunk of cow, turn it once a day and there was lusciousness after a week! I immediately worked out the critical flavors I wanted in Pastrami - with black pepper and juniper at the forefront, but with more to highlight and emphasize.
Once again I couldn't believe the simplicity of the method. The difference with the pastrami was that I smoked it then roasted it before slicing. The flavor was amazing. Several batches later I've happily tweaked my method, and I'm ready to share it. Take a few minutes to put this together - you'll love me for it.
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 6 bay leaves, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons whole juniper berries
- 16 cups (or 4 quarts) water
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 beef brisket (about 4 to 5 pounds)
To Finish the brisket:
- 1 2/3 cup coarsely ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup crushed juniper berries
- Find a quart jar or mixing bowl, and combine the peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, garlic and whole juniper berries. I use a food processor to go the garlic work for me.
- In a medium saucepan, combine water, salt and brown sugar. Turn heat to medium, and heat just until salt and sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Pour salt/sugar mixture over the spice mixture, and allow it to steep for about an hour or so.
- Meanwhile, trim brisket. Place in a large, clean container. Once the 'spice tea' has steeped, pour it over the beef. Add just enough ice or very cold water to completely submerge the beef completely. Cover it. Stash the whole thing in the fridge - you want a temperature no higher than 38F.
- Every few days, turn the brisket and stir the brine. Allow the brisket to brine for at least one week. I've read it can go for 3 weeks - but I've never waited that long.
- After a week, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well in cold water. Pat it dry. Discard the brine - but get your container ready for another batch. You're going to want it.
- Preheat a smoker or grill with a smoking packet to 200-225F. In a bowl or food processor, process together the black peppercorns and juniper berries. I like mine heavily seasoned, and this does it. Use less for a lighter flavor. Rub the pepper/juniper mixture evenly over both sides of the brined brisket.
- Smoke the brisket over low heat for at least an hour, but no more than two. Remove from the smoker. Preheat oven to 350F.
- Place the brisket on a broiler pan over a deep sided baking sheet. Pour several cups of hot water into the baking sheet. Carefully put the whole thing in the oven.
- Roast for an hour to an hour and a half (for a large brisket). I usually start sneaking little tastes at this point.
- Allow the brisket to rest for at least half an hour before slicing. Slice the pastrami very, very thinly across the grain.
You can serve this however you like - the ultimate pastrami sandwich for me has simply whole grain mustard and wheat or rye bread and is grilled off. I also like it snuck out of the fridge in bites. Mmmmm. Good stuff.
- The Thrillbilly Gourmet
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