Pastrami sandwich – a Jewish and American delicacy
Whilst on holiday visiting my sister, we went to a ‘Rubens’ in LA. I had a pastrami sandwich and chicken soup – it felt like I was making a pilgrimage. The sandwich arrived full of several ounces of pastrami piled onto rye with yellow mustard and pickle – perfect.
Jay Rayner tells about his relationship with the sandwich: in particular he has regular cravings which must be satisfied otherwise he starts going a bit gaga. Can you imagine someone who patronises three star restaurants for a living, yet is gastronomically dependent on an addiction to salt beef! I also suffer from these cravings. But finding somewhere to satisfy them has always been a challenge – until recently.
Corning beef (curing in brine) is an ancient Jewish tradition. This is why the sandwich is synonymous with Jewish New York delis – such as Rubens. The nearest I knew to such a deli was a very discrete Jewish café called the Nosh Bar in Windmill Street, Soho, opposite the Windmill revue theatre. It opened in 1944 – the food critic A.A. Gill, recalled how it was, ‘…staffed by ancient rude men with sad eyes and brilliantined hair…’
If I had a meeting in London I would plan my trips around the time when salt beef was being served (usually from noon until it finished a couple of hours later). Although I was looking forward to eating salt beef, the Nosh Bar itself was a rather intimidating place. The ‘ancient rude men’ wore full white catering coats and the walls were decorated with East End boxers. It was all a bit shifty, I felt like I was entering a run-down bar in the wrong part of town – where ordering required one to apprehensively approach a waiter and whisper in their ear: ‘I’m here for the salt beef…’
Of course, the salt beef was heaven. Sadly, The Nosh Bar closed in 2010. But these days, salt beef bars are widespread, Selfridges has one and new chains are cropping up such as Birley’s Bar and Tongue & Brisket. Even a local sandwich bar in Kingston-upon-Thames offers salt beef between certain hours of the day.
Salt beef and pastrami are similar – both are cured in a spiced brine – the salt beef is boiled, whereas the Pastrami is dried and given a spiced coating and lightly smoked before being cooked. Whichever meat you prefer pile it high between two slices of light rye and caraway, dress with plenty of mustard and garnish with dill pickle, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut are optional – enjoy.