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Jan 3, 2009 12:39 PM

Roberts NY Style Pastrami Navel Cut

As a Christmas present, i bought a 5-pound hunk of NY style, navel cut pastrami from Roberts Corned Meats to give away. It's priced at less than $5 per pound and is fully-cooked. I had called ahead to make sure it was available and to have it pulled out of the locker ready for pick-up. When I arrived, the counter guy tried to steer me to a less fatty cut, but I declined. Another staffer hearing our conversation asked me if I'd had Roberts navel cut before. I said that I had not, and that I was excited to find the "real pastrami cut". Turned out this was Greg Dixon, a member of the family that has operated Roberts since 1910, and he seemed pleased that I appreciated the marbling and flavor of the navel.

I've had a couple tastes and like Roberts other meats, the salting is rather mild. The meat has one streak of fat through the middle and some on the black pepper-coated outer edges, but other than that the fatty part is marbled with the meat. Heated in a low oven (300 degrees), a quarter inch slice was too firm to bite through. The one-eighth inch slice was fine in texture. I think it would be fun to experiment with steaming this to render more of the fat and soften the meat. I wouldn't boil it as too much of the mild cure could leach out. There's a good hit of garlic and some pickling spice. While the label says it has cane sugar, the sweetness doesn't stand out and is far in the background.

The source label says,

Distributed by:
Desola Provisions Co.
B-18, Hunts Point Coop Market
Bronx, New York 10474

Roberts Corned Meats
1030 Bryant St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. Melanie,

    My parents always steamed the pastrami that they served in their drug store/luncheonette in the Catskills. My mom said that that was the only way to cook it -- she thought that you lost the flavor to the water when you boiled it and that the texture suffered when you baked it.. And, by the way, thanks for the recommendation of Roberts' fresh brisket. I've been buying it there regularly and just love it. Their corned beef brisket is good, too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nancy Berry

      I think it was Civil Bear who recommended the fresh brisket. I'd forgotten that you're a smoker/barbecue maven too.

      I was going to ask you about steaming, but this afternoon I had Food TV on and heard the owner of Langer's in LA say that they steam the whole pastrami cuts for 2 to 3 hours, and in the process lose about 1/3 of the weight. i did a little experiment tonight, cutting off an inch thick slab. I cut it into two portions, then steamed it. I pulled the first piece out after 30 minutes, not long enough to get it tender. The second one I stopped after 90 minutes of steaming, and it was much closer to the texture I'd like to have. The condensation dripping off the lid of the pot on this small piece nearly submerged it. I think that a full-size piece steamed for 2 hours might be the trick.

      Edited to add: I've been checking into Desola. It was in the news earlier this year due to a fire. Apparently it supplies many NY delis, including Stage Deli.

    2. I go by this place all the time and keep telling myself I need to stop in (but alas I'm usually there on weekends..)
      what are other things worth getting thre?

      1 Reply
      1. re: margieco

        One of the things I talked with Greg about was corned pork shoulder. He recommended it highly. I'd purchased a corned tongue at the same time. I'd tried it before, but this one wasn't quite as good tasting more muddy. It was enormous, almost twice the size of the first one, but I don't know if that's a factor. I also wanted to mention that Roberts has several types of pastrami, so consult the website for the product list.

      2. I heat up a pan and toss the sliced meat in with some water and cover to quick steam individual portions- this keeps the flavor while getting some tender, juicy meat. Keep the water to a minimum also allows some of the fat to render and concentrate with the liquid giving some richness. I do want to try this cut!

        1. Hi Melanie-

          I have a couple of questions if you don't mind:

          1. I am not familiar with the navel cut. It sounds like from your description of the fat layer running through that you got a portion of the point overlapping the flat muscle. Could that be the navel cut as opposed to just getting a section of the leaner flat portion?

          2. Does their pastrami come pre-cooked? I ask because I had always thought the difference between pastrami and corned beef, other than the spice mixture, is that the pastrami gets smoked before hitting the steamer.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Civil Bear

            You might be thinking of the deckle. The navel cut is not from the brisket. It’s back of the brisket on the steer and part of the plate section before you get to the flank. Here’s a photo from a supplier.
            A few years ago Bob at Memphis Minnie’s said that navel cut was near impossible to get around here and that much of it was exported to Korea.

            Yes, this pastrami is fully cooked. Pastrami is cured, then smoked, but I didn’t pick up much in the way of smoke notes. The coating on the outside includes “burnt sugar” according to the label, which gave it some smoked character.

            Here’s a good article that Ed Levine wrote for the NY Times on pastrami that will give you more background.

            The end user does the steaming and, as the article mentions, that skill can make all the difference. The smoking (and some finish the cooking by baking) doesn’t raise the temperature high enough to soften the collagen and chewy tissue. I’ve read that steaming to 200º to 210º is what’s needed to tenderize the pastrami and deepen the flavor. Go higher than that and the meat dries out and gets tough. But you know that from your barbecue experience. So the wet heat and temperature of steam is the preferred method.

            Neither Langer’s in LA or NY’s Katz’s cures it own pastrami, and there’ve been posts on those regional boards about the source of their pastrami. Apparently only a small number of specialists, like Desola, supply the deli industry. However, Langer’s and Katz’s care in choosing the most fatty pieces and steaming them properly makes their pastrami stand out from the rest with a tenderness that allows the meat to be hand-sliced in thicker slabs.

            Without steaming, most pastrami stays tough and has to be cut very thin across the grain, which is the stringy, water-injected, salty junk served at the typical sandwich counter around here. I’d like to learn how to steam what Roberts sells so that it’s tender enough to be cut in thick slices ala Katz’s. Considering that the great pastrami sandwich at The Refuge in San Carlos runs about $15 and ordering from Langer’s or Katz’s is north of $20/lb., buying a four-pound hunk @ less than $5/lb. to play around with is quite economical in comparison.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I kind of have a thing for the salty sandwich counter junk- and I haven't really found it out here- salty, fatty on a bulkie roll with mustard and pickles. A guilty pleasure at East Coast sub shops. Sometimes tender and steamed comes across as watery and a little crumbly, whereas sliced super thin with fat a la Wood Tavern has some richness and retains some more saltiness.

              1. re: P. Punko

                Watery and falling apart crumbly is OVERsteamed.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Both the corned beef and pastrami at TOMMY'S JOYNT on Van Ness are steamed, and make a great sandwich - choose it on rye bread, not the sourdough roll.

                1. re: toitoi

                  The pastrami doesn't have a lot of flavor at Tommy's Joynt, but I love that you can get a Pastrami Dip because they give you au jus.

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  Wow, thanks for the comprehensive info!

                  When BBQ'ing brisket I start checking for doneness at 195F and don't let it get over 205F. A little trick that may also work when steaming is the fork test. Stick in a fork and twist. If you get very little resistance then it is done.

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    Thanks for the closer range on the temps. And, I'm sure that fork trick is going to come in handy.

                    It might be fun to pop one of these pastramis in the smoker next time you fire it up to give it an extra layer of flavor and heat it through. Have you had the pastrami at Memphis Minnie's?

                    DeSola Provisions
                    355 Food Center Dr, Bronx, NY 10474

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I have been to "Pastrami Wednesdays" at MM's with usually pretty good results. Definitely not for those looking for NY deli style. At one point they said they were using short ribs. I still like the smokey flavor mixed with a little bit of the mustard based bbq sauce though.

                      I have tried curing my own pastrami a couple of times, but am still trying to get it right. The first one I only smoked before slicing it up, and the second one I tried boiling after smoking. Hopefully your link to steaming it will help for next time!

              3. Yesterday I was in the neighborhood when Roberts was open, (a rare occurrence) and stopped in to buy. I was parked in a loading zone, so in a hurry and more of a "carpe diem" than "caveat emptor" mood so I asked for a piece of navel pastrami and left. When I got home, I noticed the "Desola" label, and more ominously the ingredients liquid smoke and caramel color. My consolation is it is probably no worse than the pastrami I grew op with back east. I'll steam it and report back.