The savory protein stars in standout sandwiches.
Pastrami is one of those terms, like barbecue, that describes a process and a product. If you go back to its roots, you’ll find a specific cut of meat from a specific place: belly meat from Eastern Europe. What remains in the modern forms are two specifications from the original recipes: the meat has to be brined and smoked.
The most common cut of meat for pastrami these days is brisket, which is located adjacent to the belly plate, so still wonderfully fatty — and as we know, the flavor is in the fat. (Sorry, chicken breast fans.) The principal differences from pastrami to pastrami are in the brine, the wood used for smoking, the length of the smoking and brining processes and the ingredients in the brine and rub. In other words, you’ll find a wide variety in flavor profile with some noticeable similarities across the spectrum: garlic, black pepper, juniper, pink peppercorns, coriander, caraway, mustard seed, cloves, etc.
If it’s not smoked, you have corned beef, and both preparations make brilliant sandwiches. The smoking gives the meat the telltale smoke ring and the powerful dark notes in the tasting profile that make every bite intensely flavorful. The richness of the meat, combined with the high fat percentage and smokiness, are what make the use of acidic components like mustard and coleslaw so important to the sandwich’s composition.
At Edge Craft Barbecue (1920 Linwood Blvd.), Zach Edge’s pastrami — Fridays only — is so good it’s tempting to skip the whole sandwich part to save room for more meat. Edge said the kitchen changes up the other ingredients regularly, so there is no telling what you’ll find Friday to Friday, but the post oak-smoked star is about as perfect as pastrami gets.
Chef-owner Zach Hutton at Scratch – Paseo (605 NW 28th St.) uses Benjamin Lee Bison from Sayre, Oklahoma, to make his bison pastrami sandwich. Bison is a much leaner meat than beef as a rule, so Hutton uses Seikel’s Oklahoma Gold Mustard and red cabbage slaw in his sandwich. The cabbages come from Prairie Earth Gardens, and his team cracks the Oklahoma rye in house to make the fresh bread.
Andrea Koester’s 30th Street Market (407 NW 30th St.) has been one of the best new additions to our food scene, and her pastrami sandwich relies on a brisket smoked for three hours on a mix of pecan and cherry wood. (Pecan, cherry and oak are the most common woods used in the 405.) The sandwich is finished with mustard aioli, house pickles, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese.
Jimmy B’s (1225 N. Broadway Ave.) offers a pastrami sandwich on Wednesdays and Thursdays as part of its featured sandwich board. It’s a bit spicy in the best way, and it includes what might be the best coleslaw in the 405, on a sandwich finished with whole grain mustard and Swiss.
The closing of Back Door BBQ meant that we might forever be denied Chef Kathryn Mathis’ mind-numbingly delicious pastrami. Fortunately, she’s promised that we’ll see it on a taco feature at Big Truck Tacos (530 NW 23rd St.) at some point in 2023. Here’s hoping the restaurant broadcasts the date far and wide.