What happens when a boy whose parents are from Belfast marries a Catholic girl, whose not-so-distant roots go back to Poland and southern Ireland? Their children grow up skeptics, who are not inclined to discuss religion. And St. Patrick’s day is a pretty subdued affair.
My parents had already been married twenty years by the time I came along, so whatever discussion or discord the holiday may have once caused in our household was long over, with only two tangible results: I was forbidden to wear green on the 17th of March, and we always ate corned beef for dinner, always with sauerkraut.
I hated them both. And don’t ask me why the sauerkraut, rather than cabbage. None of it is authentically Irish, anyway. Maybe it was rebellion on my mother’s part. All I know is that both the sauerkraut and the beef came from and tasted of, their respective cans.
But this year I was sure I would be tasting the real thing.
I had my hopes up for corned beef long before the official challenge announcement came from the dames of meat- Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy, our Charcutepalooza leaders . After all, St. Patrick’s day would be right after the posting deadline – it just seemed logical.
I’d already started making homemade sauerkraut (another foolproof recipe from Charcuterie – and one I plan to blog about sometime soon), and pondering my brisket brining plan.
I read ahead in Charcuterie and discovered that the only difference between corned beef and pastrami is smoke. This knowledge brought me up short. I live with someone who loves pastrami even more than I do. K.M. hasn’t lived near the city for more than twenty years – but I know he still dreams of Katz’s deli.
But he gave up real pastrami when we stopped eating mammals. He’s been supportive of my plunge into Charcutepalooza, but he’d still rather not eat red meat, no matter how happily the animal may have lived. I can be pretty selfish, but I didn’t see how I could make corned beef without being cruel to my partner.
But the official challenge presented the solution. The March theme is brining – corned beef, or corned tongue are the advanced challenge – and brining a pork chop or chicken are the apprentice challenge. And combining the two into one, for turkey pastrami is my answer. Cross your fingers for me that the turkey still qualifies. It’s pretty much a big chicken, right?
Commercial turkey pastrami isn’t anything special. But I was sure that just as real corned beef would (no doubt) leave the canned variety in the dust, so would homemade turkey pastrami.
And it did. We can’t get enough of this stuff. We used a twelve pound turkey, pasteurized, locally raised – and next time I set out to do this, I’m buying two. It’s that good – you can’t get tired of it. It’s Charcutepalooza blaspheme, I know, but it’s better than bacon. Without question, the best thing I’ve eaten this year.
I followed Ruhlman and Polcyn’s pastrami recipe exactly – we broke down the turkey and let it brine for 3 days. Then it was washed, dried and thickly coated with coriander and black pepper.
I smoked it for 6 hours, at the lowest temperature I could maintain on our grill – around 100° and then I slow roasted the turkey, as directed in the oven for 3 hours at 275°.
And at last it was time to pull the meat off the bones and start eating.
We haven’t stopped yet. Sandwiches with homemade rye bread, my red cabbage sauerkraut, homemade mustard, and the outstanding Russian dressing from Charcuterie were one standout meal. This sandwich isn’t a Reuben, but it’s the best Rachel I’ve ever eaten.
And we had an Irish American Thanksgiving feast this weekend. I simmered the (previously reserved) turkey pastrami drumsticks and thighs with some of the sauerkraut for a couple hours, and then added potatoes, carrots and caramelized onions for one last hour. And I served it with homemade Irish Soda bread – something else I’d never made before.
Add a pint of Guinness, and K.M. and I have a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition. One I think both my parents would have loved.