Venison Pastrami – As close to Katz’s secret recipe as we can get

Katz’s Delicatessen is proverbial to purveyors as the planet’s premier pastrami producer.

It is also where Harry met Sally’s fake orgasm.

But making pastrami is more difficult.  It is probably one of the more complicated meat products.  You can’t fake it like Meg.  Katz’s Deli isn’t letting anyone now the secrets but through many accounts and interviews a few of us have interpolated and extracted parts of the recipe.  Don’t fear though.  You can do it.  Maybe not as easily as Meg Ryan played her part but just keep practicing.

Katz Deli, of course, uses beef brisket.  I find organic venison with the tip of my arrows and use that instead.

In Australia all deer populations were introduced by European settlers long ago and many species have a year-round season and a ‘shoot as many as you can’ approach from the ecosystem managers.  This has allowed me ample opportunities to test various methods of meat preparation, field dressing, and final product.  This year-round season also forces a different perspective to archery tuning which is just now finally gaining ground outside of the quiet red island with stateside companies like Valkyrie and I am creating a page that justifies the argument for Extreme Front of Center, or FOC, soon.

But for now let’s just deal with what you do with the meat after the harvest.  

In the states it is almost part of the hunting heritage to turn the odd bits of your deer or elk into jerky.  I have always found that to be an abomination of truly great meat.  The South Africans do a biltong which is a much more artistic way of curing meat that results in a final product that doesn’t usually rip your teeth out.  But either way I say turn someone else’s deer into jerky when they don’t know how to properly handle the meat in the field.  For us we will take great care and pride in the processing practise after the harvest and therefore have a more rewarding outcome.  So let’s get to it.

Pastrami is usually made from brisket but I take the process to all cuts- big leg roasts or small off-cuts from anywhere else.  The brine is a curing solution that is also used to make Corned Beef or Corned Silverside.  The difference between pastrami and corned meat is that pastrami processes take the brine-cured meat straight into a dry rub and then give it time in a smoker where the Irish-style ‘corned’ dish goes from the brine to some form of hot water- be it slow-cooker or boiling, etc.

Curing Brine for meat venison beef with spicesI like to add flavour to the brine which is controversial- but isn’t everything nowadays?  Some say it doesn’t actually add to the finished product.  I don’t know.  I’ve always added some action to the brine regardless.  So I throw in Bay leaves, coriander seeds, juniper berries, pepper kernels, sage, thyme, cinnamon stick, cardamom, cayenne, garlic, onion, etc. all while the brine is boiling up.  I use a ‘Pineapple Cure‘ from the local butcher supply store.

Follow the instructions for your particular cure.

But the gist of the curing process is:

Boil the curing agent down with the spices until the meat injector brine curing venison beef pastramisalts are dissolved. I then put the meat in large butcher bags.  The bags conform to the odd shape of the meat and reduce the amount of brine needed.  After the brine has come down to room temperature I pour it over the meat in the bag, secure the top like there was an alien trying to get out and place the bags back into the refrigerator for a pre-determined length of time based on the size of the pieces or whether I used the injector, etc.  This is the part of the art which is kind of like voodoo… you just gotta feel it and it just seems to work.  Then after the curing process, be it overnight or a few days, take the meat out of the brine and rinse in freshwater (or soak in fresh water for a few hours if you believe the other side of the nitrite/nitrate conspiracies).

Yeild: This recipe turns about 1-2kgs of raw venison into pastrami so multiply it accordingly. I am usually smoking about 5-8kgs (10-15lbs) in a batch and it is still gone way too quick to all the friends around town.

Cooking time. 6 hours approximately to smoke a thick 2kg chunk at 110°C (225F). Actual cooking time depends on thickness not weight. Then it goes into the fridge about 12 hours, and then it steams for about 2 hours. Larger and thicker cuts will take longer.

Ingredients

2kgs of pineapple cured venison

4 tablespoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper

2 tablespoons roasted juniper berries

2 tablespoons coriander powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

 

A Secret About the Rub. The juniper berries take any ‘edge’ off of ‘game meat’ and enhance richer meats like duck and venison and other cervidae. They are the secret ingredient to wild game cooking as far as I’m concerned.  I use a mortar & pestle on the juniper berries, pepper corns and coriander seeds.

Method

1). Remove all of the fat cap except about 1/8″ and if there is any filmy membrane on the other side, remove it all. That thin layer of fat is important.b. The sinew of the roast or ligament parts is worthless.  Slice it the heck away.  Sometimes I do this trimming before the cure, sometimes I do it after.

2) Desalinate. Put the cured venison in a pot slightly larger than the meat and cover it with cold water in the fridge for a few hours. This removes excess salt. Trust me, you need to do this or you will be gulping water all night after your meal.

3) Rub. Make the rub by blending together all the spices. Rinse the meat, and while it is damp, apply the rub liberally. If there is a thin part of meat, use less rub. Put in the fridge for a minimum of 2 days. I wrap it in baking or wax paper just to be able to stack pieces and make room for all of it in the garage fridge.

venison pastrami

4) Smoke. Set up your grill in 2 zones for smoking or set up your smoker. If you can, use a charcoal smoker. It produces a deeper darker crust than any other cooker. Preheat to 110°C (225°F). The type of wood chips you choose does not seem to make much difference because of the massive collision of all the other flavors. Use Cherry or hickory or mesquite. Light apple and such will just get lost in the commotion. Let me know what you think.  Smoke it until each piece reaches the stall at about 65°C (150°F).  My smoker happens to be a Hark 2-door.  The bottom smaller door lets you add chips as needed without losing the heat and smoke by opening up the main, top chamber.  I also use a remote meat thermometer which just stays in the meat and I run the wire through the smoke vent in the back.  This is crucial for temp checking without losing your smoke.

Optional: Soak the wood chips in some red wine to slow the destruction of the chip and prolong the smoke situation and it may add a bit of flavour to your action.

steamed pastrami venison

You can wrap them in baking paper/foil and refrigerate for up to a week or go straight to steaming.  (Truth be told I have gone straight from smoker to the chopping board at a party and I still got great reviews… but it is better to steam them a bit before serving.). Like corned beef it will be red in the centre even though it is most certainly ‘well-cooked’.

I usually just steam them for about 15 minutes to warm them up for a cheese plate or sandwich, but Katzs Deli will steam for almost 2 hours or so before they start slicing it up for their sandwiches.

So there you have it.  The basic guidelines of which I deviate from almost every time yet it still comes out pretty freakin’ great.