Galit's Pastrami Playbook

By Amelia Schwartz | Will Blunt


Amelia Schwartz
Will Blunt
Chef Thomas Carlin of Galit
Chef Thomas Carlin of Galit

In spring of 2020, recipe development wasn’t a question of what to make. It was more, “What ingredients do we have available?” At Galit, Chef-owner Zachary Engel and Chef de Cuisine Thomas Carlin asked their meat purveyors that exact question, and what Slagel Family Farm had was a bounty of brisket. So for their Middle Eastern menu with Jewish influences, the chefs naturally purchased the beef with the intention of curing it into pastrami (full recipe here). 

“I was previously the head butcher at Publican Quality Meats, so I had a pretty bangin’ pastrami recipe,” Carlin says. To hone in on common Middle Eastern flavors like fenugreek, caraway, and cumin, Carlin married his pastrami-making technique with Engel’s pastirma spice blend. The hybrid warrants the dish’s tagline on the menu: “Armenian meets Lower East Side.” 

The brisket is treated to two brines. The more traditional liquid brine, infused with brown sugar, coriander, and pink salt, is injected into the meat itself. It’s sealed tight in a Cryovac bag filled with more liquid brine, left to develop the savory-sweet flavor for 10 days. The Middle Eastern spices enter in the form of a dry brine that crusts the brisket before getting placed over hot hardwood coals to smoke. Nine hours later, the black-crusted pastrami is ready for slicing. 

Slagel Family Farm raises mostly Holstein cows for their brisket—the iconic black and white cows typically used for dairy. “Their beef is really rich and buttery, more than other beef we’ve found,” Carlin says. To cut through the deeply rich pastrami, he pairs it with a radicchio salad coated in an acidic urfa biber colatura vinaigrette. He tosses the radicchio with fermented Thomcord grapes (like concord but without the hassle of seeds). “The seasons in Chicago are micro-seasons, so grapes are around for, like, two weeks,” he says. So instead of serving the tannic, Welch-like fruit fresh, Carlin lacto-ferments them in salt for an extra hit of funk and an extended shelf life. 

To slightly counter the acidity, Carlin squeezes dollops of beef fat mayonnaise, another pandemic-born component. “We had a lot of beef fat from some braises we were doing,” Carlin says, “and since we weren’t throwing anything away, I did a beef fat mayonnaise.” The dish is finished with a pile of chives, a signature Carlin touch: “When we put chives on stuff, I like to put as many as possible.” It provides a final, subtle onion flavor. 

Carlin’s pastrami dish works in many variations. Sometimes, the grapes are swapped for a different lacto-fermented fruit; sometimes, it's thrown into a sandwich, but the same formula holds true: salt, fat, acid, pastrami.

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