Homemade Pastrami with Sweet Pickle Mayonnaise


This is my back-pocket trick for throwing a big party on a thin dime: homemade pastrami. It tastes as close as we come to Katz’s famous smoked pastrami (on New York City’s Lower East Side) here in northern Minnesota. With my homemade fermented dills, it slays my craving for a real New York smoked meat sandwich.

And no, I am not corning and smoking my own brisket for this (though that might be fun). Naw, I’m simply buying a clod of corned beef brisket cheap, when they’re on sale (ahem, for months post-St. Paddy’s day–and don’t worry, they do last quite a long time), rubbing it with a thick coat of cracked black pepper, coriander seed, and smoked paprika, to mimic the smoky trail of real pastrami, and then steaming it in my slow-cooker until it’s nearly too tender to move. Before serving, I carefully transfer the clod to a roasting dish and blast it in a hot oven until the crust blisters into the tell-tale black bark of pastrami.

This I slice as best I can (if done right, the pastrami resists the thin slice) and serve with rye bread and a quick mayonnaise doctored up with a bunch of finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles. Nothing could be simultaneously easier and more impressive. Assemble a little make-your-own sandwich bar, with sour pickles, hot mustard, and a side-pot of coleslaw, and you can feed a hungry crowd.

(One thing: be sure to buy point-cut corned beef; it’s more marbled and more tender than the flat-cut.)

Homemade Pastrami with Sweet Pickle Mayonnaise

1 point-cut corned beef
1 1/2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted coarsely ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 large sweet onion, cut into rings

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles with onions
pinch of turmeric
1 tablespoon lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
pickle brine to thin

Rinse the corned beef (discard the seasoning packet) and rub with the combined pepper, coriander seed and paprika mixture.

Lay the onion rings into a slow-cooker and set the corned beef on top. Set the heat to high to get it started, then reduce to low and cook slowly until very tender when poked with a fork, about 6 hours.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 450ยบ F. Set the corned beef on a rack over a sheet tray, and roast at high heat until a dark teak-colored bark forms on the meat’s surface and the inside tests hot and tender.

For the sweet pickle mayonnaise, stir together all ingredients, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and/or lemon juice as necessary.

To serve, slice the hot pastrami and serve with rye bread, pickle mayo, with sour pickles on the side.