Pastrami sandwiches are like Chicago-style hot dogs. Traditionalists tend to have a brain hemorrhage at the mere thought of messing with the classic preparation. A great pastrami sandwich, they’ll tell you until their neck veins start throbbing, needs to bow before the “holy trinity” of hand-carved pastrami (preferably homemade) stacked high on seedless rye bread with a slathering of deli mustard. A pickle on the side would not be frowned upon.
Now, if you’re brave enough to break with tradition and request mayo on your pastrami sandwich, I’d suggest you hire bodyguards first. Consider the sandwich listing on Katz’s menu:
Katz’s Pastrami 15.75
Smoked to juicy perfection and hand carved to your
specifications (ask for Mayo at your own peril)
Daniel Singhofen of Eola in Dupont Circle, a subject in this week’s story on tasting menus, is a hardcore fan of pastrami sandwiches. He’s also not afraid to stand up to GroupThink on the deli staple.
“I was standing in the kitchen chatting with my sous chef about a possible new pasta dish, snacking on our lamb pastrami,” e-mails the chef. “That’s when I thought, ‘Why can’t we turn a pastrami sandwich into a refined gnocchi dish?’ After I blurted it out, I started looking at all the components to a sandwich and translated them into a new dish.”
Say hello to his little friend: Singhofen’s “The Pastrami Sandwich,”a de-constructed lamb-and-gnocchi version of the deli original. It requires a fork to eat.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? A deconstructed pastrami sandwich? Why don’t you deconstruct the Taj Mahal while you’re at it.”
Believe me, I’m with you on the whole deconstructed-dish movement. For the most part, I’d rather have my brains descrambled than watch a beloved dish deconstructed. But I also understand/appreciate the chef mentality: Their goal is not to desecrate all things holy. Chefs merely want to break down the components of a familiar dish and present them in a way that re-ignites the imagination and palate, that forces you to mentally catalog the defining flavors of a dish anew. It’s like appreciating the Rolling Stones’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” through Otis Redding’s version. You feel and sense things in a whole different way.
Singhofen’s pastrami sandwich is a marvel of kitchen engineering. He takes lamb belly and brines it for two weeks before rubbing it with coriander seeds and a juniper-and-black-pepper spice mix and letting it sit overnight. The next day, the chef will cold smoke the meat for 12 hours, cool it and Cryovac it. Finally, the lamb is cooked for 12 hours at about 180 degrees, chilled and sliced to serve.
The chef pairs that pampered pastrami meat with pan-fried gnocchi, which is made with pate a choux dough that combines rye and bread flours; Singhofen even throws toasted caraway seeds into the dough. The lamb meat and gnocchi are tied together, pastrami-style, with a streak of traditional bechamel-based soubise, this one spiked with Dijon and whole grain mustards. As a final touch, Singhofen provides a sour element with his green bean pickles, which are mixed into the other components of the dish, a sort of heresy to the traditional pickle-on-the-side orthodoxy.
The final dish is stunning in its mimickry of pastrami flavors. You will not miss the rye bread.