Lunch Meat of the Week – Pastrami

December 13, 2018 at 6:02 AM | Posted in Lunch Meat of the Week | Leave a comment
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Slices of pastrami

Pastrami is a meat product usually made from beef, and sometimes from pork, mutton, or turkey. The raw meat is brined, partially dried, seasoned with herbs and spices, then smoked and steamed. Beef plate is the traditional cut of meat for making pastrami, although it is now common in the United States to see it made from beef brisket, beef round, and turkey. Like corned beef, pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration.

The name pastrami comes from Romanian pastramă, a declination of the Romanian verb păstra meaning “to conserve food, to keep something for a long duration” whose etymology is linked to the Bulgarian pastrija or to the Greek παστραμάς/παστουρμάς, itself borrowed from Turkish pastırma, short for Turkish: bastırma et “pressed meat.” Wind-dried beef had been made in Anatolia for centuries, and Byzantine dried meat is thought by some to be “one of the forerunners of the pastirma of modern Turkey”.

Early references in English used the spelling “pastrama”, closer to the Romanian pastramă. Pastrami was introduced to the United States in a wave of Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century. The modified “pastrami” spelling was probably introduced in imitation of the American English salami. Romanian Jews emigrated to New York as early as 1872. Among Jewish Romanians, goose breasts were commonly made into pastrami because they were inexpensive. Beef navel was cheaper than goose meat in America, so the Romanian Jews in America adapted their recipe and began to make the cheaper-alternative beef pastrami.

Pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli in New York City.

New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich in the United States in 1887. Volk, a kosher butcher and New York immigrant from Lithuania, claimed he got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the friend’s luggage while the friend returned to Romania. According to his descendant, Patricia Volk, he prepared pastrami according to the recipe and served it on sandwiches out of his butcher shop. The sandwich was so popular that Volk converted the butcher shop into a restaurant to sell pastrami sandwiches.

New York pastrami is generally made from the navel end of the brisket. It is cured in brine, coated with a mix of spices such as garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed, and then smoked. Finally, the meat is steamed until the connective tissues within the meat break down into gelatin.

Greek immigrants to Salt Lake City in the early 1960s introduced a cheeseburger topped with pastrami and a special sauce. The pastrami cheeseburger has since remained a staple of local burger chains in Utah.

 

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