Washington, a pastrami mecca? Taste it for yourself: Over the past year, pedigreed chefs have taken on the challenge of curing, spicing and smoking their own and have been showcasing it on trend-driven menus.
At DGS, the new “craft” delicatessen in Dupont Circle, Barry Koslow set out to create a showstopper pastrami. Spike Gjerde serves a Reubenlike sandwich with house-made pastrami at his new Baltimore eatery, Artifact Coffee. Adam Sobel took time out from butter-poaching steaks at Georgetown’s Bourbon Steak to perfect his pastrami and is dishing it up through March, At his eponymous market a few blocks away, Jamie Stachowski stuffs 11 / 2 pounds of his smoked pastrami into a behemoth sandwich.
We hit the pastrami circuit to investigate, but first we paid a visit to a Washington institution: Wagshal’s Delicatessen. There, owner Bill Fuchs set the bar years ago, long before pastrami became highbrow.
The basic formula for pastrami-making is this: Beef brisket is brined for about a week in a salt solution with sodium nitrite (to preserve color) and pickling spices, such as bay leaf, mustard seed, coriander seed, peppercorns, allspice and cloves. Then it gets crusted with a peppercorn-and-coriander-based spice mix and smoked for hours. After that, the meat is steamed until tender.
Some chefs adhere to the formula; others deviate. Some slice it razor-thin; some prefer it a half-inch thick. Adjusting processing times, devising proprietary spice mixes and combining smoking woods are all ways to stamp a brisket as their own.
“Everyone has a visceral idea of pastrami from the first time they ate it,” says Stachowski. “So you’re trying to measure up to every . . . person’s memory.”
Here are contenders, in sandwich form, that may well meet your expectations. Or even surpass them.
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