Making my own pastrami

In the past few years I’ve been doing food themed new years resolutions, and this year I decided to do a year of preserving things. Partly because I got a new toy, and partly cause I was doing so much of it already. And it’s such a broad category, I figure I can play with the new smoker, pickle things and maybe learn some new stuff.

I decided to make some pastrami as one of my first preserving projects. Mostly cause I’m obsessed with the pastrami hash at Saul’s in Berkeley, and I’ve been secretly trying to recreate their entire menu.

So after I procured 7 pounds of beef brisket, I started my research in earnest. This is where I hit the first problem. Pastrami is just beef cured with salt and then smoked. Easy right? But no… Pastrami purists debate between dry cured vs a wet brine cured pastrami. The dry cure camp says it produces a better flavored pastrami, but can be overly salty and dry. The wet brine camp says it makes the meat more moist and takes less time but can make the meat taste mushy. Then I remembered the whole dry brining process we tried for Thanksgiving, it’s essentially just rubbing salt on meat and letting it sit in it’s own jucies. Sounds appetizing right? Well, it worked great! 7 pounds of beef actually gives off a lot of fluid when you apply salt to it, and this kept it perfectly moist. Not to mention much less of a pain than a giant tub of salty beef in the fridge.

The other big decision is whether to use curing salt, aka sodium nitrites or not. If you walk in a Whole Foods these days, there are plenty of “uncured!” and “no added nitrite” products. Well, Michael Ruhlman has a nice post about it here. Apparently a lot of these “uncured” products does it using added celery juice or powder which contains nitrites. That seals the deal, sodium nitrite it is. Besides, it prevents botulism which is good enough for me!

I decided to dry brine the pastrami for 2 weeks. After the curing process, I coated it in pastrami spice and smoked it for 6 hours over some hickory chips. Then I wrapped the whole thing in foil and cooked it in the oven until tender. The BBQ enthusiast will recognize this as the “Texas crutch“.

Home made pastrami

Results? Freaking fantastic. Smokey, moist, fatty and salty. Pretty much the perfect pastrami! Yes, a huge pain the ass and and not sure economically worth it. After trimming, curing, smoking the almost 7 pounds brisket produced around 4.5 pounds of pastrami. But man, is it ever tasty!

Pastrami Hash

I served it as a sandwich during a football game and of course, pastrami hash!

Home made pastrami:

6.5  pound brisket after trimming

Dry Rub
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbs crushed black peppercorns
2 tbs crushed coriander seeds
2 tbs crushed pickling spice
2 tbs pink salt aka curing salt, I used cure #1
1 tsp garlic powder 

Pastrami rub
1/2 cup cracked black pepper
1/4 cup crushed coriander
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
minced garlic to taste
Dijon mustard

1) Combine all dry rub ingredients and mix well.

2) Cover the brisket throughly in the dry rub and place in a 9 x 13 pyrex pan. Wrap tightly and place in fridge.

pastrami dry rub

3) Cure the brisket for 14 days. Flip the brisket every few days. Be careful, there will be a fair amount of liquid in the pan.

4) On the 14th day, take out the brisket and raise off any spices stuck to it. Pat dry with paper towels.

5) Mix up the pastrami rub ingredients except for the mustard. Apply a thin layer of mustard all over the brisket, and then press on all of the pastrami rub.

6) Start up your smoker! Smoke the pastrami for 6 hours. Pastrami on the smoker

7) Pre heat the oven to 325F. Wrap up the pastrami in foil and place in a pan, then bake until the pastrami is tender but not falling apart. Mine took about 2 hours or so.

8) Now you can eat it! If you want, you can also flatten  the pastrami into a more even shape by weighing it down with a few heavy pans over night in the fridge. The pastrami is easiest to slice when cold. To reheat it for sandwiches, I slice off a few pieces and steam them.

Next time I’ll tell you about making my own bacon!

2010 Year of the Dough in review

Happy 2011! In case you didn’t notice, we go by the Chinese Lunar new year here. AKA I was too lazy to post earlier…

Anyway, so another year has come and gone. My resolution for 2010 was to work with dough more. As with all new years resolutions, I started out strong. Then due to moving, new kitchen and generally being busy, things tapered off a bit. I never quite got around to learning how to make hand pulled noodles. I never made my Homer Simpson tribute in doughnuts. Doh! The girls still laugh at my feeble dumpling skills. But hey, they would probably laugh at you too!

So here goes some photos of my dough projects.

Shanghai Dumplings!

Steamed and delicious.

Pita bread being puffed up in the oven. Yeah I made my own pita…

Finished Pita.

Of course pork buns!

One of my favorite food, pizza margarita. I went on a slight pizza kick for a while.

Argula Pizza!

This might not look all that but it’s home smoked short rib pastrami, with my sauerkraut and home made rye bread. What happens when I have too much time…

Dumplings with home made wrapper. Takes more effort but oh boy is it ever worth it…

Sourdough. Still a work in progress but pretty tasty!

Pretzel stuffed with cheddar cheese and country ham.

You might wonder what in gods name is that? Beignets for dessert!

Not a bad 2010, wouldn’t you agree?

And we are back! With garlic chili oil…

Hello there dear readers ( Hi Mrs.Chen!), I’m back. We took a little summer vacation. Don’t judge, you took vacations too right? Anyway, I was packing, moving, traveling on the East Coast (to be another post)  and some more moving. Don’t worry, I still managed to eat awfully well though.

When I was on the East Coast, it was crazy hot. I loved that kind of weather but I wanted easy things to cook and eat that won’t heat up the kitchen. I stayed with my father for a week and he made some simple but tasty dishes with this chili oil he spooned on everything. Noodles, cucumber salad, celery salad… Perfect for a hot Virginia summer! I asked how he made it and made a batch as soon as I moved into my new place. It’s so simple and delicious, you can spoon it onto just about anything. I’ll always have a jar in the fridge now!

So here it is.

Garlic Chili Oil

4 tablespoon minced garlic, from about half a head of garlic
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or more if you want it spicier)
1 table spoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil or other neutral tasting oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1) Mix the garlic, chili flakes, sesame  seeds  and salt in a relatively tall heat proof jar
2) Heat up the oil in a small pot until hot but not smoking
3) Carefully pour the oil into the jar a little bit at a time, it will bubble like crazy and then settle down. Pour more oil in after the bubbling dies down in batches until you use up all the oil.
4) After the oil is cool, you can put the lid on and keep it in the fridge or use it immediately.

One of the things my dad made with the oil was a simple cucumber salad. I took the liberty of adding bacon to it cause what’s not better with bacon?

Isn’t that lovely?

Cucumber Salad with Bacon

2 large cucumbers sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of Garlic Chili Oil
1/2 teaspoon of rice vinegar
few drops of sesame oil
2 slices of cooked bacon, chopped (optional for a vegetarian version)

1) Mix the cucumbers with salt in a strainer and leave for 30 minutes to drain out some liquid
2) Mix the cucumbers with the rest of the ingredients minus the bacon, then garnish with the bacon
3) Bam, done… Eat.

Bacon-less version

Cooking David Chang: Pork buns

I admit, I didn’t want to like David Chang. He’s got an attitude and there was the whole San Francisco diss controversy. So I didn’t really pay any attention when his cook book came out last year. However, after a friend and food writer Jarrett raved about the book here I decided to take another look.

Well my mind is changed. The day I got the book, I stayed up till 4 AM reading it. The recipes are simple but filled me with thoughts like “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “That sounds amazing!” All this before I even made a single thing out of the book.

Since his signature item is the pork bun I decided to try that. Awesome! It has now become a goto recipe. I even made the buns for Chinese New Years to go along with roast duck. I like to serve the pork buns with a little cilantro instead of scallions. The recipe for the pork belly calls for roasting at 500 F and then 250 F but I often ended up with dry and brittle pork (as documented here). I ended up trying all sorts of methods and timing to get that luscious pork belly back with no luck. What ended working was a different cut of pork belly! Typical Asian market pork belly is thin and doesn’t have tons of fat so the pork drys out. I got a fatty piece and it was perfect.

So here they are in their porky glory.

BTW, bacon dashi? Freaking genius!

The year of dough: Sourdough!

For the last few years I’ve been making food related new years resolutions. Last year, it was to cook more unusual meat which worked out quite well. This year, I decided to make it the Year of Dough (Doh!).  I will attempt to master, or at least try just about any dough related food. I’ve tried various breads, pasta, puff pastry, dumpling wrappers, pizza and beignets.  Most of them good, with a few glaring exceptions (I’m looking at you soba noodle…).  But I’m here to talk about sourdough.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with sourdough.  For the longest time I hated eating sourdough because of its sheer ubiquity here in San Fran.   I curse the day they tried to serve me Philly cheesesteak on a sourdough roll.  And too often the sourdough here was just, well, too sour.

Fast forward to 2010.  After making a few pretty nice breads, I decided to try making my own sourdough.  The whole process of making my own starter, keeping it alive and molding it into something unique overrode my dislike of sourdough.  I made my own starter and tried the Cooks Illustrated recipe.  It was good but it didn’t really taste like sourdough.  I did my research, made a different starter, slowed my rise, changed my baking method and voila!

This bread had shatteringly crispy crust, chewy crumb, nice medium size holes and the perfect tang of sourdough without being overwhelming.  It was pretty much perfect!  So why wasn’t I satisfied?  I wanted it to be more sour!  More more more! Like the stuff you can get at stores.  So I started researching again, googling and reading everything I could get my hands on.  Finally, I stumbled on He says:

“Still, at the end of the day, bread is about more than sour. It has to work with whatever you’re eating it with. If it’s eaten alone, it has to stand on its own, and that usually means a balanced taste, or at least a bread that has more going for it than the one trick pony approach of super-sour bread that so many sourdough beginners are striving for.”

A little light bulb went on above my head, I already had the perfect sourdough!  One that I loved and couldn’t stop eating.  Why was I trying to imitate some commercial sourdough that I hated eating anyway?  Purely for some unreasonable masochist satisfaction of being able to make sour sourdough?

I realized I had a great sourdough.  More than that, I made some great bread.

A few sourdough tips:

  1. Starters are relatively easy to start, but make sure you smell it constantly.  It should smell pleasantly sour and yeasty.
  2. For a crispy crust, I left a cast iron skillet beneath the baking stone and filled it with warm water when the bread goes in.  I also misted the bread with water.
  3. Think about the shape of your bread.  I like a lot of crust so a long loaf was better than the round ball style.  However, supposedly the round ball style keeps fresh longer.