The pastrami sandwich: rye bread topped with a heaping amount of thinly sliced pastrami often served with mustard, Russian dressing, dill pickles, sauerkraut, or cole slaw. This staple of delicatessen cuisine is ingrained in American history as a classic sandwich which first made its appearance in New York during the 19th. century. Like a majority of the food we eat in America, the pastrami sandwich is a culmination of immigrant descent, reimagined in the confinement of American society. It’s a concept that has become the very foundation of food culture in the United States.
Fast forward to today in Los Angeles, Chefs Erik Black and Joe Marcos of Ugly Drum (who practice the art of smoking meats and sausages religiously) are slicing large cuts of brisket that have been smoked for 12 hours in a very Texas-barbecue style at a popup event at Mendocino Farms. The occasion? A concept called Our Pastrami Project by the folks at Mendocino Farms—who pride themselves in reimagining sandwiches with superb chefs, ingredients, and techniques—with the goal of constructing the perfect pastrami sandwich to be rolled out at all Mendocino Farms locations. It’s an experiment of sorts, all in the name of pastrami.
Naturally, we didn’t flinch when presented with the opportunity to document the process of what it means to modernize the classic pastrami sandwich.
Days before the pastrami makes it into sandwich form, a large piece of quality brisket is brined for three to five days in salt water with garlic, herbs, and spices. After being brined, it’s then patted dry and rubbed with a mixture of spices to create a delicate texture and aroma to the outer layer of the pastrami. Using pecan wood, the brisket is smoked for 12 hours before cutting thick slices (atypical to the finely thin slices usually found in delis) from the lean lobe and the fatty lobe which will both make it onto rye bread topped with a creamy coleslaw. Alongside the sandwich, a rich and golden mustard dipping sauce derived from three different mustards is paired with every sandwich. Together, the perfect pastrami sandwich is made with a flavor profile far more complex than pastrami sandwiches I’ve had in the past.
And I’m happy for that.