This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was to brine something…you know, like a chicken or a brisket, and completely transform that ordinary meat into something luscious and completely elevated outside itself. Sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn’t it??
I’d actually corned a beef brisket once before and while it was good, I knew it could’ve been better. For one thing, it was completely gray. It tasted fine, but the color wasn’t what you kind of expect from a corned beef, so I was hoping that part would be different. Since I knew my family would love this challenge, I went “whole hog” and got a 15 lb brisket and decided that a third of it would be pastrami.
Mmmm. Pastrami. The mere thought of it makes my mouth water in a way that corned beef can only dream. Pastrami is such a part of my childhood that even now, my mother and I search for perfect pastrami sandwiches whenever we get together. Growing up, my mom and I lived alone in South Gate, California very soon after her divorce. We’d left Michigan and traveled across the country and we knew nobody. Fortunately, to drown our sorrows, there was an amazing sandwich shop, “Lucky Boy” that served hot pastrami sandwiches and we ate there often. Years later, when we would travel to to see our old place, “Lucky Boy” would still have the same sandwich, over and over. The last time we made the pilgrimage, the restaurant had sold and it was never the same and we never went back.
Anyway, pastrami was to be part of the challenge for me. So, into the drink all the meat sank. A huge bucket o’ meat sat in our fridge for a week. I waited anxiously to see what it would be like. On the last day, I pulled it out and rinsed it off … it was a 15 lb chunk of gray meat. My heart fell, just a bit, but I knew it would taste good, just the same.
5 lbs of the brisket immediately got dried off and dusted with coriander and pepper. Off to the smoker, we went, pastrami and I. I smoked and smoked for about 6 hours and ended up with something that smelled beyond incredible to me and brought back so many memories in a flood.
Of course, I kept dancing around the kitchen, saying “I did this!! This is amazing!!” until everyone got pretty tired of that. So, instead, I just kept dancing in my heart.
And making Pastrami Sandwiches…
And I made Pastrami-Sweet Potato Hash…
Pastrami-Sweet Potato Hash
1 lb good Pastrami, (preferably home-cured), cubed
1/2 Sweet Potato, baked, peeled and cubed
3 Asparagus Spears, chopped
1/4 – 1/2 C. Onion, chopped
1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 T. Butter
Pepper, to taste
Saute onion and garlic in butter. Add pastrami and potato and cook until crispy, this can take a few minutes. Toss in the asparagus and cook until tender. Add some pepper and serve with an egg of your choice. Heavenly!
The pastrami was a revelation! It certainly made store-bought pastrami completely obsolete in our family!
That brings me to the corned beef. The picture at the top of the page is the corned beef we had, just this past Sunday. The problem is, that is the only picture of the corned beef. You see, every Sunday, we have a huge family dinner. Three generations come together at our table and feast, laugh, eat, drink and talk…all very loudly! I had sliced the corned beef and while it was reheating in the oven, I prepared the potatoes, carrots and cabbage.
1 head of green Cabbage, thinly sliced
4 T Butter
1 T (or to taste) Caraway Seeds
Bring a large amount of water to a boil in a stock pot. (Using a pasta insert makes it simpler.) Add the salt. Add the thinly sliced cabbage to the boiling water and cook for 90 seconds (bringing to a boil is unnecessary.) Drain the cabbage well, place in a serving bowl. It will have significantly reduced in size. Add butter and caraway seeds. Toss to combine and serve immediately. There is absolutely no smell in this cabbage and it retains its color and a slight crispness.
Then, we all sat down and enjoyed our meal. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I hadn’t taken any photos of the meal itself! Horrible, I know and I was very disappointed.
I was disappointed until later when I remembered, “Sláinte is Táinte!” (SLAWN-che iss tawn-che) A Gaelic toast meaning Health and Wealth! I thought of my family, all sitting around the table, laughing and talking. The three generations bound by genetics, but also by the enjoyment we all have for each other, eating this corned beef dinner that had taken nearly 2 weeks to get to the table. Slow food at its best!
We are a relatively healthy bunch, just a bit of Alzheimer’s here and there, but mostly healthy. What we are, more than that, is wealthy. Not in money, by any stretch of the imagination. By the love we have for each other and the memories we’ve built and continue to build as our family grows up and older … even bigger, someday.
Sláinte is Táinte!