Call me crazy, but I’m a sucker for a good challenge.
When I write a new menu, I like to add at least one item that really challenges my culinary skill…and that of my team. I research, experiment and decide on a passion project.
In the past few years, we have added quite a few items to our repertoire including: fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, paleo pizza dough, fresh pasta, perfectly smoked brisket and grain free tortillas.
A few years ago, I began researching scratch made pastrami. The real stuff….not the crimson rubber band most people serve you. There is a reason they shave pastrami in a deli folks. It’s the ONLY option to make it edible…unless you’re Katz deli of course.
In the beginning I went with the traditional method, which takes at least four weeks from beginning to first bite. In most restaurants, that just isn’t practical. It’s hard to judge how much you might sell, so you’re only option is to take a guess. You also have to get it right. What happens if you spend a month and in the end the meat is garbage? You can’t sell it, and you have to start at square one again. Meh. That sucks. I know, because it happened to me. It seemed impossible to get the staff to just remember to flip the briskets over twice a day (to keep the salt cure even). Hence, it went on the back burner for a bit.
This menu I decided I was going to make it happen whatever it took. I read articles, did extended research about new techniques and settled in on going with what “people” were saying was the absolute ultimate, most delicious pastrami ever!
This method includes curing the beef brisket with pink salt, placing it in a cryovac bag and removing all of the air. This forces the salt into the meat at a much faster rate while also keeping the meat safe from on oxidation. This method brings step one down from four weeks to ten days.
After ten days, I rinsed the curing salt from the meat, rubbed it with a traditional spice blend and smoked it for six hours.
Six hours later, it went back into a cryovac bag and into a sous vide water bath for 22 hours. Yup, 22. These final hours brought the total recipe time down from 32 days to 20 days.
Ahh…maybe I should give you the gist of sous vide right?
Essentially it is cooking food in a plastic pouch in a water bath for a longer than normal cooking time at an accurately regulated temperature. The intent is to cook the item evenly….retaining ALL of the moisture.
In the past three weeks, I failed at this process numerous times. Like pathetically, actually. I didn’t know enough about the sous vide machine, and it literally said “screw you…b***h”. It shut off on me, needed a vent for more steam to escape, needed a cover for less steam to escape….and so on.
I put the water bath in my tiny office over night for safekeeping. The morning it was due to be ready, I couldn’t wait to get to work. I was so excited my 20 days was up, and my masterpiece would be ready for it’s accolades. Instead, I was met with a machine that was off, a bag of beef floating in 90 degree water and condensation dripping off my desk. This happened twice before I figured out what I did wrong.
I wasted at least $500 in meat…..cost, not potential revenue. I wasted almost three weeks. In my business, time is everything. Plus, my chef soul was crushed a little….ok, let’s be honest, …a lot.
I put it on the menu anyway. Crazy right? Not one successful batch….new menu starting in 23 days with a process that takes 20. I knew if I put it on the back burner again with the thought that I would “go back to it”, I would be off the hook.
I also knew it would eat at me. I started all over again, again.
Last night, the pastrami timer went off. I had anxiety. Like root canal anxiety (with sweaty palms and everything). I wanted to open up the bag in private so if it was a failure again I wouldn’t feel so bad…..especially in front of my staff that respects me.
Then I had a thought. This is something they need to see. I’m just a regular person just like everyone else. I’ve failed at plenty of projects and moments in my life. I’ve looked back and wished I executed something differently or been more patient with my staff.
I’m not perfect, but I am driven, honest and better than rubbery pastrami.
If you don’t believe me, come taste it.