Focusing on food- where it grows, how it grows, what it provides, what it requires, what it tastes like, prolonging it’s bounty and how to eat responsibly is as much about the seasons as it is about calories or permaculture. I was surprised to see strawberries at yesterdays farmer’s market and am still somewhat skeptical of their origins. Like the strawberry, my employment history of the past year and a half had fooled my body into associating work with the summer. No more. Now my evenings are spent learning the ropes as a busser at a farm-to-table restaurant as I try my damnedest not to pour water on anyone of import and rattle off facts about our butter to inquiring minds.
My parents, understandably relieved by this development, have each read the various accounts of working in a restaurant and asked questions ripped from the pages of books like Heat, Service Not Included and Garlic and Sapphires. After relating some of my first impressions and tribulations to my parents, my father, wearing his ignorance of the internet proudly on his sleeve, asked if “there wasn’t some sort of diary you could write on the computer.” If I didn’t already have a blog I would start one now.
Lord, we don’t need another blog about the restuarant industry.
There are twitters and tubmlrs- enough to browse.
Enough to last, until the end of tiiiiiiimmmmmmeee.
So aside from getting a job and screwing up my sleep schedule, there have been no shortage of foodie projects afoot in my kitchen. My white whale, the project that took me to Bacon’s house to learn the art of smoking and to various delicatessens for “recipe investigation” and kept our largest pot out of commission for three weeks was the homemade reuben.
In the initial stage, everything was to be homemade. I had visions of smoking pastrami while the rye baked, the smell of sauerkraut wafting up from the basement and finding some obscure Russian dressing recipe in some leather-bound cookbook from Time Tested. Well, two out of five ain’t bad.
My first real exposure to the Reuben was right around a year ago at Short Stop deli in Ithaca. Heavily buttered and toasted rye bread slathered with a tomatoey Russian that provided the bond for the sauerkraut into which the swiss cheese melted and mortared the aforementioned ingredients to the smokey cured perfection that is pastrami.
A lot of misconceptions surround the reuben. The first and most common, is that pastrami is pork. Nope. It’s funny to me that the reuben is a product of the Jewish deli tradition and yet so many people think that its main feature is a food that Jews cannot eat. Pastrami is a beef brisket that has been cured, rubbed and smoked. The brisket is actually two distinct muscles, the pectoralis major and minor, commonly referred to the flat and the point of the brisket. If you are buying pastrami, likely it has been separated and you are getting the larger flat.
Now, this is all science, and anatomy, some Good Eats shit. Its relevant to the sandwich because the brisket is a tough cut of meat. A tought cut of meat requires long processes. You hear about brisket a lot when talking about southern barbecue and smoking because it takes forever to cook a brisket, to break it down and make it tender. That’s why the first step of making pastrami takes three weeks and a cup of salt…
You can dry cure meat (like salami) or wet cure it, more commonly called brining. Brining a cut of meat in a salt bath does not actually cook it, but it prepares a dry cut by essentially forcing water into the cells of the beef. To be done well this takes patience and a fair amount of checking in on your beef baby. Brining a brisket is a lot like having a fish. It doesn’t make a lot of noise and all you have to do is change the water every once in a while. Also, you’re feeding this fish bay leaves and garlic cloves.
I dissolved a cup of salt into a gallon of hot water and then let the water cool. I tossed in about five bay leaves, a crushed head of garlic and some black peppercorns and then a 5 lb. trimmed brisket from Lucky Dog farms down in Dixon. I threw that in the basement and checked on it every day making sure that the meat was submerged and that a mold did not develop on the brine. I changed the brine twice over the three weeks, taking care each time to rinse off old brine. After taking it out, I soaked it in unsalted water for a few hours to get the excess salt. THIS STEP IS VERY IMPORTANT. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. If you don’t do this it will taste like meaty ocean. I won’t show you a picture of what it looked like when it came out, because, well, it was hideous; just a big brownish slab of meat.
Okay, maybe a picture. But this is red because of the paprika in the rub.
Mmmmmmm. Smoking is a delicate practice, and it takes more patience and active maintenance than the brine. Smoking is more like having a child than a fish. But different because you don’t keep your child in a barbecue for 30 minutes a pound. Or, at least you shouldn’t.
Misconception #2: Smoking is just barbecuing with wet wood chips on the coals. It isn’t. Smoking is cooking the meat by the indirect heat of the smoke. If your meat is directly above the fire, then you’re doing it wrong. It takes forever, and is such a hassle to keep such a little tiny fire going but by the time its through, well, you have a tasty smoked treat.
Necessary companions on a cold day of smoking meats.
I had a hard time getting the pastrami up to adequate temperature, so I finished it in the oven at 220 for an hour. After that I took it out and, well, ripped into it even though I was supposed to wait. I had done enough waiting. I was hungry.
The rye bread went unmade, but one of the perks of my job is free take-home bread at the end of the night. Acme down in Berkeley provides all of our bread so the fact that what has been called “the pioneer of the artisan bread movement” was my standby wasn’t too shabby.
I won’t even really go into detail on the kraut, because well, its really easy to make sauerkraut. Its like three steps. Get a jar and fill it with salted cabbage and then wait. Boom. Easy button.
That is how last night whilst listening to “All Things Must Pass” for the first time ever on vinyl I came to eat a sandwich that I made somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of. If anything else it has made me feel that saying “I made a sandwich” is a total lie.
Tomorrow morning there will be snow on the ground in Sacramento. The fact that it comes this soon after making a sandwich I first fell in love with in snowy Ithaca cannot be a coincidence.
Working on a seasonal little mix that I’ll put up when my roommate isn’t uploading and ganking my bandwidth.