On Pastrami

There are two types of people in this world: those that love pastrami and those that have no soul.

I grew up on pastrami. My mom would grind it up in the blender and feed it to me in lieu of breast milk. I choked a lot but it made me stronger. And Jewisher!

Pastrami is cured(?) brisket(?) with a peppercorn crust(?). The question marks in the last sentence betray the fact that I don’t really know what pastrami is. I just know that I love it.

I also love corned beef. That’s in the same family as pastrami, except with a different haircut.

You can find pastrami almost anywhere, nowadays. Well–maybe not in Des Moines or Chattanooga–but in most urban places. Yet, it’s rare that you’ll find GOOD pastrami. There is an abundance of bad pastrami in mock delis everywhere you go and that pastrami is dry, brittle and reminiscent of the guy who drinks from the wrong Grail in the third Indiana Jones movie and shrivels up, turns to dust and drifts away, to the horror of Indy and Elsa and the old ghostly dude.

Alon’s Bakery in Atlanta has above average pastrami for a city outside of New York:

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It’s steamed and therefore warm and it’s served on really nice, thick sliced Rye bread with grainy mustard. There’s also grilled red onions, but I usually do without those: that’s pastrami sacrilege.

Notice, in the sentence preceding the pictures I wrote: “above average pastrami for a city oustide of New York.” It’s almost taken for granted that the best pastrami anywhere is in Manhattan. Specifically, the Lower East Side at Katz’s. If you look at the “Adam and Lisa Eat The Lower East Side” video, you’ll see me consuming a huge mound of Katz’s pastrami.

And yet, several years ago, in a Food Issue of the New Yorker, Nora Ephron shocked the pastrami-eating community by declaring the best pastrami in the world to be the pastrami at Langer’s in Los Angeles.

“Egads!” cried the pastrami-eating community. “Whatever does she mean?”

I was equally put off by Ms. Ephron until, as fate would have it, I found myself working this past summer at a law firm in Downtown Los Angeles, just down the street from the famed Langer’s. One day I convinced my less-than-enthused workmates to try it out.

And?

It was phenomenal. Nora Ephron was right: this WAS the best pastrami I ever had. The secret was in the cut. The guy who cuts pastrami is called a fresser; and the fressers at Langer’s cut the pastrami thick. Apparently, the steaming process reduces the size of the brisket but maximizes the flavor. So many places only let it steam down so far. Langer’s let’s it steam down a ridiculous amount so not only is it flavorful, but it’s incredibly tender. It melts in your mouth. It’s the best pastrami ever.

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