NYC made deli’s popular in the United States. When luscious images of pastrami and corned beef are envisioned, they are normally from the iconic NYC delis. The first time I ate at Katz’s Deli off of Houston Street, it was a revelation. Never had corned beef taste so good (which I love in general and wish that St. Patrick’s Day occurred more than once a year). Pastrami had never tasted so good.
That is, until now. Tucked away in Lexington, MA, outside of Boston is Neillios Gourmet Kitchen. Once (or sometimes twice) a week, it serves one of the best pastrami I’ve ever tasted and easily the finest pastrami in all of the Boston area.
About Romania Pastrami and recipe
Pastrami is a technique, not a specific cut of meat. Pastrami was traditionally prepared using beef navel, but it is much more popular to use beef brisket nowadays. Pastrami can also be prepared with other proteins including turkey, pork, mutton, veal, and/or goose. For me, beef brisket is the way to go.
The pastrami technique is deployed but just about every culture in the world – some form of air-dried, unsmoked cured meat. The major difference in pastrami from other cured meats, is that it is smoked and then steamed. This adds such incredible depth and helps make the meat all the more tender and juicy. The Romanian specialty was introduced to the USA in a wave of Romanian Jewish immirgrants in the second half of the 19th century. The popularity of the pastrami sandwich bloomed as food carts and pastrami sandwich shops brought the delicious
For more history on the Romanian Pastrami and unique forms of pastrami, click here.
The pastrami process and general recipe involves the following:
- Cure the beef brisket in a brine (salted and flavored liquid) to impart additional flavor
- Coated with a mix of spices, which may include garlic, coriander, paprika, cloves, all spice, mustard seeds, bay leaves, saltpeter, sugar, and plenty of salt
- Let the meat sit overnight or up to one week
- Smoke the spice-rubbed meat after it has aged for at least 8 hours
- Place the meat into a steamer and allow the connective tissue to slowly breakdown (at least three hours)
The Romanian Pastrami sandwich at Neillios Gourmet
Neillios has become a staple in our lunch rotation after the discovery of its Romanian Pastrami. It is homemade once or twice a week and prepared in a manner that is definitely more suited to my liking. It is heavily flavored and also sweet. Using brown sugar allows for a beautiful charred bark to develop on the brisket as it is smoked. Given the intensity of the smoke and the outer texture of the pastrami, this meat is definitely first steamed and then smoked. The extra layers of sweetly flavored char, with pairs well with the other elements of the spice-rub, make for a flavor bomb that is just about perfect. In addition to taste, the bark also provides another component of texture.
I like my meats fatty. I am not offended at all by chunks and strains of fat, unlike some people. For me, it not only really ups the ante in regards to taste, but provides such necessary juice that helps a meat stay dry and succulent. The pastrami at Neillios has, for me, the perfect meat to fat ratio. Traces of fat run through some of the pastrami pieces, which is euphoric. There’s nothing quite so satisfying to chopping down on a sandwich bit, and experiencing all at once, the tender fall off the bone meat, flavored with an intricate bundle of spices, sweetened up with sugar (for that ying and yang play against the spice rub), amazing charred bark, and pieces of unbelievable, juicy beef fat that just runs down your hands and face.
Neillios recommends you enjoy the pastrami in a sandwich of un-toasted marble rye bread, one slice of Swiss cheese, and deli mustard. I totally agree. Just ask for some extra fatty Romanian Pastrami. I’m normally the type of person that loves to break on tradition, but I won’t with this masterpiece. The fact that Neillio’s pastrami already broke some rules with its extra smoke and sweet char (and lots of fat … not too lean), is perfect with me. This is a complex yet humble sandwich, well worth the travel to experience. Sorry NYC, but for now, Neillio’s reigns as my pastrami sandwich king.