There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza sneaks a pastrami sandwich into the lovemaking process. In an unprecedented move, his girlfriend balks, not recognizing pastrami for what it is – the most sensual of all the salted cured meats. But what makes it so? Actually, a better question might be what makes pastrami?
How it’s made
In short? It’s a smoked corned beef. In case your knowledge of corned beef needs a little help, it’s a brined and spiced cut of beef, typically a brisket. Post-brining, the corned beef gets born again in the smoker, reemerging as the cut-o-beef we call pastrami. From there, it’s steamed to render the fat and other connecting tissues into gelatin, which is a decidedly more scientific but less delicious way to describe how meat becomes tender. And then it’s off to the slicer and onto some bread.
Where it’s from
But that’s to say nothing of the history. Pastrami is old. Some say it goes back to the Byzantine Empire, if you can believe that. Others argue that it’s straight-up Romanian. That’s regarded as a more likely origin story, and the preparation is far more similar to what we currently consider pastrami than the air-cured meats of Constantinople. In fact, it was Romanian Jews that carried the pastrami torch across the Atlantic and into New York City’s Lower East Side shortly after the Civil War. In their homeland, they pastramied just about any meat they could conjure up – pork, mutton and, most often, goose liver.
As alluded to, pastrami is most often enjoyed between two slices of bread. Pastrami on Rye is the stuff of sandwich legend, right up there with the ham and Swiss and its cousin, the Reuben. And if you’re looking for a solid pastrami sandwich, there are two American cities that you’ll want to be in. New York, naturally, is king and the home of the traditional preparation that we all know and love. Los Angeles does it two ways. Having mastered the traditional prep, some spots are dishing it up French Dip style, on a hoagie with a bit of brine to make sure things stay juicy.
Hidden gems for pastrami
And now, naturally, comes the where-you-can-get-it business. Fromin’s in Santa Monica is everything an old world style deli should be, and their pastrami on rye is out of this world. Rincon Sabroso is another story. Based on the name alone, it’s not exactly the first place that pops into mind when you think cured meat sandwiches. But they put together a truly great pastrami sandwich.
1832 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA
32 Avenue C, New York, NY