Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Making Pastrami with Game Meat

First step is to harvest the game. .... . 

Lately with a friend from work I've been working on perfecting a recipe for making pastrami from the various types of animals I have in the freezer here at home.  So far we have used Reindeer, Sitka Blacktail Deer, and Roosevelt Elk meat.  Next I plan on trying Mountain Goat.  The main difference between game meat and domestic beef is that game is far less fatty.  Consequently, you have to be very careful to not dry it out during the cooking process.  That said, not all cuts of game meat are created equal.  I found that neck meat is fatty and that some cuts make better pastrami and corned game meat than others (more on this later).

About pastrami - what exactly is it?  Basically from what I read (click here and here for 2 good reads on making pastrami, and here for what is probably the most basic recipe) pastrami is corned beef that has been smoked.  And unlike corned beef it is typically made from a fattier flank cut of beef - the best recipes seemed to even include the ribs.  The details in all the recipes differ - some use brines, some use rubs, some boil in water or steam, some cook in the smoker etc.  But basically the recipes all call for making corned 'beef', rubbing it with different spices for a final 'rub', and then smoking it.

Most corned beef recipes also use 'salt peter' or sodium nitrate to get that pink processed meat color.  I wanted to find a recipe that did not use nitrates and would work well with less fatty game meat.  And I will add that fatty meat and the use of nitrates give one a lot of leeway in terms of cooking.  With lean meat and no nitrates the cooking process becomes the essential key to a moist and tender final product.

I have been making corned game for a few years now and have already got that recipe perfected.  I basically use a Cooks Illustrated method that foregoes sodium nitrate and is itself based on an older Julia Child recipe.  The main difference between the two is that Julia Child's recipe includes sage in the 'dry' brine.  Both are recipes for 'grey', 'New England' style corned beef that lack the chemical bath.

I used to follow the Cooks Illustrated recipe pretty faithfully, and while I like the 'dry brine' recipe for the 'cure' part I have not liked the cooking process at the end.  Basically the recipe calls for boiling the hell out of the meat for 3 or more hours.  When I did this my corned game meat would shrink up to half in size and totally dry out.

So for the recent tries at making pastrami we used the Sous Vide cooking method for the final product in an attempt to keep the meat moist and tender.  As it turned out, it worked GREAT and even kept the final pastrami product an appetizing pink color sans the nitrates!

Basically we made the corn beef with a dry brine (this takes a week), soaked out the salt for an hour or so in warm water, coated the meat in a coriander and brown sugar heavy rub and smoked it at very low heat for 2 hours, and then cooked it using the sous vide method at 122 degrees for 9 hours (with the temperature topping out at 130 degrees).

At that point I thought we were done, but while the resulting pastrami tasted great it was way too salty.  So we put it back in the water bath for another 2 hours at around 115 degrees to soak out some of the salt.  Interestingly the neck meat with its extra fat retained the smoke flavor the best.  Also the 'rump' roast cut ended up much more fine grained and better than the 'flat' roast cut (quad).  Another interesting discovery was with the neck meat that was not soaked pre smoking and simply smoked with the corn beef rub - it tasted the same as the others smoked with the elaborate coriander and brown sugar rubs.  I also think next time I will be smoking the meat longer before the final sous vide bath.

Anyway, as it stands now this is the recipe that I will be using in the future to corn 2 large chunks of meat - ie one whole neck roast and 1 'pineapple' or rump roast of game.  Up to 10 pounds of meat total.

Corning Dry Brine Recipe:

1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
3/4 tablespoons of unground Allspice
1 tablespoon of thyme
1/2 tablespoon of Paprika
2 Bay leaves
3/4 tablespoon of sage

Steps to corned game
1) add peppercorns, allspice, thyme, bay leaves, sage to a coffee grinder and coarsely grind up.  Add with salt, and paprika to gallon sized zip lock bag.
2) add meat to bag and toss meat around inside of bag to fully coat each piece.  Then 'burp' as much of the air out as possible and seal.  I double bagged it at this point.
3) place meat in large pot and place another small pot on top inside the first one (I use nesting La Creuset pots) and put a heavy weight in the top pot (I use a 10 pound dumbell).  If cool enough put the nested pots outside or, if not, into the fridge.
4) Turn meat once or twice a day for a week.  After a week the meat is 'corned'!

The next step is smoking the corned meat, and I'm wondering if a different 'smoking rub' is even necessary.  We smoked one piece of corned deer neck meat directly after corning with no 'smoke rub' spices on it and it tasted virtually the same as the other pieces with the rub.  For this reason I am thinking of adding coriander and brown sugar to my corning spices and skipping the 2 next steps.

5) (optional) soak corned beef for an hour or so in warm water and lightly brush meat with hands to get most of the corning rub off of the outside.
6) (optional) add smoke rub ingrediants (see below) and meat to zip lock bag and toss to coat.  Really push the spices into the meat.

Smoke Rub Recipe (Optional):

7 tablespoons brown sugar
7 tablespoons salt
7 tablespoons black peppercorns (coarsely grind)
6 tablespoons coriander seed (coarsely grind)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon juniper berries (I could not get a hold of these and did not use them but they are in the recipe that I used)
1 tablespoon chili flakes

Now comes the smoking part - the step that turns corned meat into true pastrami!

7) remove meat from bag (and with either 'smoking rub on it or the corning 'dry brine' on it if you skip the above 2 steps) and smoke at low heat (try and keep it under 120 degrees).  My friend did this in a 'Lil Chief Smoker' and put it on the top rack.  He used a thermometer to check on the heat.  He smoked our meat for 2 hours but I think 3 hours would be better.

Sous Vide to Finish - I do not own proper sous vide equipment, and I am not going to clutter my kitchen with some any time soon.  I have found that 'low tech' sous vide works very well and is simpler and clutter free (click here to see my 'red neck' sous vide roast recipe).  But if you have vacuum sealers and temperature regulated cooking pots by all means use them!

8) This time rather than use the oven for my sous vide (see link above) I made a water bath by filling up my largest cast iron La Creuset pot with hot tap water and, using a simmer plate underneath, put it on the stove.  I put my thermometer in it and the water right out of the tap was 119 degrees.

9) I put each piece of meat into a separate zip lock bag and purged as much air from each bag as possible.  I then tightly wrapped them up and put a rubber band around them to keep them wrapped.  I tucked the thermometer under one these rubber bands to hold it off the bottom of the pot.  I also found that the little bit of air that I could not get out of each bag served to keep the packages floating off of the bottom of the pot.

10) I then turned on the stove burner as low as I could get it.  With the simmer plates I found that I could hold the temperature pretty steady.  I tried to keep it at 122 degrees.  I did this for 9 hours and intentionally let the temperature creep up to 130 degrees for an hour or so at the end. I started the process at 3 PM and turned the stove off at 11 PM and when I went to bed at midnight the water bath was still in the 120s.

11) On waking up I took the cured meat out of the bags and placed them gently into the still warm water bath (but maybe try the pastrami first and see if you think it is too salty or not - mine was and hence needed the de-salinization bath).  I turned the burner on low and let the temperature creep back up to 120.  After 2 hours (from first putting it in the water bath) I removed the cured meat from the bath.

12) Slice it thinly and enjoy!  Since the recipe does not use nitrates or cook the meat to high temperatures I think it does need to be kept refrigerated and eaten within 4-5 days.  But this should not be a problem - especially if you like hot pastrami sandwiches!


No comments: