I'd been feeling that I hadn't done any cured meat in a while. I wanted to make some sausage or bacon or something. And then I hit upon the perfect thing. Pastrami.
I did some googling, and decided that this recipe from Emeril Lagasse seemed like the most workable for the home cook. I also liked the sound of the seasonings in the brine - I thought it was likely to make delicious pastrami. I used a smaller piece of brisket, so I only left it in the brine for two weeks, not three.
I smoked it on oak dust for 3 hours (it was a very cold day, and I think the ambient temperature kept the smoker cooler than usual) until it reached an internal temperature of 70C. During the smoking, the connective tissue melted out a bit and the brisket separated into two slabs.
The only other thing that I did differently was to press the pastrami under some fairly heavy weights (a plate, a wooden board and 3 cans of tomatoes) over night in order to make it easier to slice into neat serving slices. I left one half intact, wrapped it tightly and put it in the freezer, the other stayed out for eating!
So there was my pastrami. But how to eat it? Well, it had to be a Reuben sandwich! Although apparently it is only a reuben if it is made with salt beef. The same sandwich made with pastrami is a Rachel.
So I needed to make some good rye bread, to match my lovely pastrami.
We've been watching the Hairy Bikers on BBC iplayer, and I really liked their Classic Brown Loaf. It used a technique I haven't tried before, of making a ferment with flour, water and yeast and leaving it overnight before adding it to the rest of the flour.
I was very, very dubious when I put the ferment together - it looked very dry - but as the yeast started to work the bubbles worked through all the flour and made a very light sponge.
Because I wanted the rye flavour to come through more, I subbed rye flour for all of the wholemeal flour in the main bread recipe. I also used the last of my whey from cheesemaking instead of the water, to give it an extra tang.
I was a bit scared when I left the bread to prove - at one point I thought it was going to overflow all over the kitchen, so it only got 1 1/2 hours before it went into the oven. It did need the full 30 minutes to bake though.
It's a lovely bread! I gave it about 20 minutes to cool before I cut it, but I should have been a wee bit more patient, because it sliced much better when it was properly cooled.
The rye tang was still very subtle, but it had a lovely chewy texture and robust flavour. And I think the crust is the best I have ever produced; just the right balance between crisp and chewy. The very thing for my sandwich.
So then it was really just a matter of assembly. A good slice of bread, thickly smeared with mustard (we used Dijon), topped with overlapping thin slices of the pastrami, then forkfuls of well-drained sauerkraut and slices of gruyere cheese.
That went under the grill until the cheese melted and the sauerkraut and pastrami was hot through.
Topped with a second slice of bread and served with tall glasses of German beer, this was pretty much the perfect sandwich experience, and made a really delicious lunch. Genuinely worth the effort! This sandwich is going to Deb for her Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday event!