Making Local Beef Navel Pastrami at Home

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February 11, 2011 at 7:06 am

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Mark Smreck to the pages of the Local Beet. Many already know Mark for his keen expertise on matters of bacon as well as his skill producing charcuterie. Mark will be sharing some of his kitchen efforts as well as commenting generally on our burgeoning “good meat” scene. In his first piece for the Beet, Mark does what one does when provided with a beef navel.

One of the benefits of the newly opened Butcher and Larder is that not only are you getting local meat freshly butchered, but you are getting the expertise of a butcher. Not only that, but with whole animal butchering, you are getting access to cuts of meat that do not typically make it into your butcher’s freezer. Going into B&L looking for something interesting to cure and smoke, the beef navel was suggested.

Beef Navel? Most people, even ardent carnivores, overlook the cut, but those who dive a little deeper will find that beef navel is the cut traditionally used to make “real” pastrami. Despite the tradition, most pastrami that you see these days is made from brisket. Especially in Chicago where the deli scene is, at my nicest, very limited, pastrami is brisket and mostly the flat, which is really, really lean in comparison to the point and especially the navel. The navel appears closer to pork belly than brisket when talking about meat and fat distribution. In an effort to make authentic pastrami, I put the navel in the brine.

As you can see in the picture above, the cut of meat has a nice fat cap, but also striations between layers of flavorful beef. The beef itself, from Dietzler Farms in lovely Elkhorn, WI, is amazing. The curing process used is outlined in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. The navel was brined for 4 days, dried for one, rolled in coriander, black pepper, and pimenton, and, on a day when the temps never reached 20 degrees, smoked for nearly 6 hours.

With temperatures so low, the navel never reached the desired temp of 160 degrees, but peaked at just under 150 degrees. The benefit of this is that the pastrami was exposed to a great deal more smoke without rendering a great deal of the fat. After the smoking period ended, the pastrami was chilled and sliced with a little help (thanks if you are reading this).

Upon slicing the pastrami, the thing that stuck out was the stark contrast of the redness of the meat and bright white fat. In using the brisket flat, there was little to no fat. Reading a little about others’ attempts at beef navel pastrami, I was slightly concerned about the fat levels, but after steaming the slices for a little over 30 minutes, they were incredibly tender and the fat, while present, was incredibly flavorful.

With the different texture and composition of the navel, one thing that I noticed in the flavor was that each element was more present. The sweetness of the sugar and honey were more present, the saltiness and smoke were more present. It was not just one aspect, but all flavors were bigger.

Mark lives in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. He enjoys cooking and eating with a houseful of ladies. In particular, Mark is interested in exploring the slow foods movement. Even more specifically, he enjoys the craft of charcuterie with a focus on using local products. Look forward to more posts by Mark on the Local Beet on doing interesting thins with local meat.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free leave them here or to contact Mark on Twitter or at frombellytobacon@gmail.com. We hope that you enjoy the new piece and the pictures. Thanks for reading.

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2 Comments

  1. Maureen says:

    Wow! Informative post. I had no idea that pastrami is made from a cut other than brisket.

  2. mike p says:

    I DON’T KNOW WHERE MARK IS FROM, BUT HE IS PROBABLY TOO YOUNG TO REMEMBER THE GREAT JEWISH DELI’S IN CHICAGO–BRAVERMAN’S, JOE PIERCE’S DELI, BROWN KOPPELS ETC ETC. CHANGING NEIGHBORHOODS DID THEM IN, BUT IN THEIR HEYDAY THEY HAD FABULOUS PASTRAMI SANDWICH’S MADE FROM BEEF NAVEL.

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