Walking into a Jewish grocery store in New York is a spiritual experience. All my hopes and dreams are served before my eyes, in the form of crispy hash browns wrapped in deli paper, a mountainous slice of noodle kugel, and thin, juicy shavings of pastrami on bread. rye. But any good Jewish caterer will have you answer one major question: pastrami or corned beef? Before you place your next order, learn the real difference between corned beef and pastrami, according to someone who has perfected the art of both: Jake Dell of Katz’s Delicatessen in New York.
cut of meat
“Traditionally, pastrami is a belly button cut and corned beef is made with brisket,” Dell explains. Each cut contains different amounts of fat, which translates to how the beef breaks down during the cooking process. Belly button contains fat in the middle, while beef brisket contains fat mainly along the outside of the meat. “The fat inside means that when you smoke pastrami, it spreads all over the cut of meat,” Dell says.
The cooking process
Pastrami and corned beef are brined, but pastrami is smoked and corned beef is boiled. The pastrami is rubbed with a dry seasoning mix of salt, pepper, cilantro, and garlic, “which develops this awesome bark that is so delicious.” Some delis may also brine pastrami with mustard seeds, brown sugar, and other pickling spices. Corned beef, on the other hand, is salt cured – hence the process of corning.
So which is the most popular?
To understand the history of corned beef and pastrami, you have to go back to 1888, when Katz’s Delicatessen opened its doors and the first immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in New York. In the first hundred years of business, Dell claims corned beef was twice as popular as pastrami. “For some reason that changed and pastrami now sells twice as much corned beef every week. We sell 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of pastrami a week.”
How to serve them
The classic preparation for both is on rye with mustard. Given the complexity of pastrami’s flavor, most people tend not to add more. With corned beef, you have more flexibility to turn it into, say, a hash or Reuben sandwich, Dell says. Plus, there’s always the classic St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage preparation.