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A New Generation of Pastrami Rises

A New Generation of Pastrami Rises

Shared by Evan Bloom
Recipe Roots: San Francisco

In San Francisco, Evan Bloom’s team at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen slices and serves upwards of 350 pastrami sandwiches — a day. Unlike the legacy deli owners of the past, Evan wasn’t raised behind the counter. The town where he grew up, an hour north of L.A., didn’t even have a deli. Instead, he came to deli (professionally speaking) as an adult, joining a small cohort of dedicated Jewish cooks who have heeded the call to revitalize Ashkenazi cooking in America. 

For Evan, it all started in his 20’s with a trip to Katz’s Deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side about eight years ago. He was in New York visiting his brother Ari. Having grown up in a kosher home, “we had always been 2nd Avenue Deli people,” he said. But, on a whim, he ended up at Katz’s and ordered a pastrami sandwich. He remembers thinking: “Oh my god, I haven’t had this in such a long time, let alone this good. How does this not exist in San Francisco?” 

He wanted his father, who only eats kosher meat, to experience it and thought that he’d try to recreate Katz’s pastrami for Father’s Day. “I tried to get kosher brisket and couldn’t find anything and I gave up,” he says, but he decided to make pastrami anyway with his friend Leo Beckerman in a backyard smoker. 

“The first time we made [pastrami], it was surprisingly good,” Evan says. But, in an effort to improve upon the recipe, “the next three times it was awful.” Ultimately, they found their groove, making pastrami regularly and hosting “tastings,” as Evan says, for friends at his apartment. And, what started as a small project, became an obsession with Jewish food that snowballed to include baking rye bread to go with the pastrami and making matzo ball soup. 

When Evan was frustrated with a job in corporate construction, his brother offered him a template for a business plan. “Why don’t you do something to exercise your brain?” Evan recalls him saying. He had been making pastrami so often that the business plan was naturally for a deli. The momentum continued to build. Soon, he and Leo started to host deli pop-ups in the Bay Area. Finally, in February 2011 they opened their first brick and mortar deli in San Francisco.

Nearly seven years later, his father still hasn’t tried the pastrami Evan set out to make for him. Fortunately, Evan’s gone on to open three bagel shops, which his dad appreciates. “He’s a big smoked fish guy, so we keep him pretty happy,” Evan says.

Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz

Wise Sons Pastrami at Home

Serves: 8 to 10
Time: 2 hours, plus overnite for the rub and 5-7 days to cure

Pastrami Brine:
6 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
5 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/4 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 tablespoons pink salt (sodium nitrite, purchase online or through your local butcher)
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander
6 1/3 cups warm water
5-8 pound beef brisket (flat portion, sometimes referred to as ‘first cut’ with large fat cap untrimmed)

Pastrami Rub:
1/4 Cup Coarse Ground Pepper
1/4 Cup Coarse Ground Coriander

For Oven Smoking:
1/2 cup hickory or oakwood chips

Special equipment
Kitchen Torch

1. In a large food safe container, begin by making a brine. Add all ingredients to the container, and cover with warm water to dissolve the brine’s ingredients. Stir with a fork or whisk until all sugar and salt is dissolved. Let this cool in the fridge for 1 hour. Rinse the brisket and place in the container, making sure it is completely submerged. You can use a plate or bowl to weigh it down. This will need to cure 5-7 days in the fridge depending on size and thickness of brisket. Agitate every other day, flipping the meat over. To check for full cure, make an incision through the fattest part of the brisket, looking for a consistent pink color through the meat. If there is a darker or grey color in the center, continue to brine.
2. Combine pepper and coriander mix. Remove the brisket from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. In a bowl or on a large cookie sheet, coat brisket evenly in the pepper and coriander spice mix. For best results, place in this in the fridge overnight uncovered, so the surface can dry a bit and get a better crust upon cooking.
3. Heat oven to 225 degrees. Soak the hickory or oakwood chips in water for 1 hour. In a cast iron skillet, ignite wood chips with a kitchen torch and place in the bottom of your oven. Place the brisket on a cookie sheet and place on the top most shelf of the oven. Cook for 4-6 hours or until center reaches 170 degrees. Remove from oven, cool, and wrap in plastic wrap.
4. When ready to serve, the easiest home method is to slice cold and steam in a vegetable steamer for about 15 minutes until tender. Alternatively, heat oven to 350 degrees, place brisket in a large roasting pan on a roasting rack. Add one cup of hot water to the bottom of the pan. Cover and seal entire rack/pan tightly with plastic wrap, then a layer of tin foil. Place in the oven for 1 hour or until meat is tender. You should be able to insert a carving fork and rotate it with little effort. Slice against the grain and enjoy!

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