This is not the first pastrami on this blog. Hell, it is not even the first beef pastrami, but it is the traditional cut, the navel, for the first time. Despite the tradition, most pastrami that you see these days is made from brisket. Especially in Chicago where the deli scene is, at my nicest, very limited, pastrami is brisket and mostly the flat, which is really, really lean in comparison to the point and especially the navel. The navel appears closer to pork belly than brisket when talking about meat and fat distribution.
Before Chicago’s newest butcher shop, Butcher & Larder, opened just a few weeks ago, beef navel was not a cut that you would find at a butcher shop in Chicago. Which is a shame, it is a beautiful cut of meat. With B&L open, however, beef navel can be had for anyone who takes the initiative to ask for it.
As you can see in the picture above, the cut of meat has a nice fat cap, but also striations between layers of flavorful beef. The beef itself, from Dietzler Farms in lovely Elkhorn, WI, is amazing. The curing process used in prior versions of pastrami is no different. The navel was brined for 4 days, dried for one, rolled in coriander, black pepper, and pimenton, and, on a day when the temps never reached 20 degrees, smoked for nearly 6 hours.
With temperatures so low, the navel never reached the desired temp of 160 degrees, but peaked at just under 150 degrees. The benefit of this is that the pastrami was exposed to a great deal more smoke without rendering a great deal of the fat. After the smoking period ended, the pastrami was chilled and sliced with a little help (thanks if you are reading this).
Upon slicing the pastrami, the thing that stuck out was the stark contrast of the redness of the meat and bright white fat. In using the brisket flat, there was little to no fat. Reading a little about others’ attempts at beef navel pastrami, I was slightly concerned about the fat levels, but after steaming the slices for a little over 30 minutes, they were incredibly tender and the fat, while present, was incredibly flavorful.
With the different texture and composition of the navel, one thing that I noticed in the flavor was that each element was more present. The sweetness of the sugar and honey were more present, the saltiness and smoke were more present. It was not just one aspect, but all flavors were bigger. Check back on Saturday and I will have more (and better) pictures to share.