Love it or leave it, New York is a pastrami town. In the last few months the StarChefs.com team has eaten old-school navel pastrami with thick streaks of salty fat at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats and tender, traditional brisket pastrami from Mile End Sandwich and Brooklyn Cured. Though the cuts and spice mixes vary, what they all have in common is technique: brine, dry, smoke, and steam.
At Brooklyn’s fine-dining Battersby, Chefs Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek transform pastrami into an entrée—without the help of rye bread and Thousand Island dressing—with (almost) classic pastrami technique and fatty, gelatinous beef short ribs. Stern and Ogrodnek dreamed up their pastrami dish over breakfast. “[We] would sometimes frequent our neighbor Shelsky's for bagels and smoked fish and would joke with the owner about pastrami, pestering him to make some until we decided to do it ourselves,” says Ogrodnek.
The craving fit well into Battersby’s rib-heavy menu, and it allowed both chefs to test their hand at the New York cult classic. “We use a lot of short ribs in our cuisine, so it was only a matter of time before we decided to use [them] for pastrami,” says Ogrodnek.
Stern and Ogrodnek’s recipe isn’t rocket science, but like any pastrami process, it requires a lengthy three-day brine with salt, sugar, garlic, pickling spices, and color-enhancing pink salt. After a serious rub down with coriander and black peppercorns and a night drying out in the refrigerator, Walker and Ogrodnek lightly smoke the short ribs on the stove top with fruit wood to impart flavor—but not to cook the meat through as you would with navel or brisket. It’s a low and slow steam that finishes the cooking and breaks down the fat and gelatin in the short ribs.
Short Rib Pastrami, Fingerling Potatoes, and Braised Cabbage
This format not only renders juicy, fork tender slabs of beef, but it also yields a single serving of pastrami (sans slicing) that the chef duo sidles up to assertive braised cabbage and red bliss potatoes. The vegetables balance the heavy meat and nod to pastrami’s Eastern European culinary origins—all while maintaining the dishes fine-dining distance from the original. No longer a technique for preserving meat as in the golden days pre-refrigeration, Battersby’s pastrami short rib pays its respects to New York’s food history while asserting itself in the culinary present.
Short Rib Pastrami Technique
Cover short ribs with brine, and rest in refrigerator three days.
Remove ribs from brine, pat dry, and rub with coriander and black peppercorns.
Refrigerate the ribs, uncovered, at least 8 hours or overnight.
Prepare fruit wood chips in a stove-top smoker, and smoke until desired flavor is achieved.
Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a steamer, and gently cook ribs for 2½ hours.