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Feb 5, 2009 10:37 PM

Pastrami? Reuben? Patty Melt? What is in a name?

A recent tread on the LA Board about “Patty Melt The Best” brought to my attention that although we may all use the same name when talking about a special type of sandwich we may not all mean the same thing when using that name. I think the problem is serious and we need to have a reasonable standard for what is, and what is not. This problem might have been averted, for example, there were supposed to be fifteen Commandments but Mel Brooks dropped the third tablet and for all we know Commandments XI through XV might have made clear what is, and is not. I propose we do our best, based on our daily experiences and our Divine Right as Chowhounds, to fill-in the five missing laws. This is a first draft but please feel free to edit some Americana Twenty-first Century Enlightenment as you feel is needed.

Commandment XI, Thou shalt not make thy Pastrami sandwich wth anything that is not Jewish Rye Bread or deli mustard.

Commandment XII, Thou shalt not have try Reuben sandwich with anything other than grilled rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing.

Commandment XIII, Remember that a Patty Melt is made with two thin beef patties stacked slightly off center to fill both ends of the grilled rye, two slices of American or cheddar cheese, and grilled onions.

Commandment XIV, You shall show steadfast love for thy double-decker Club Sandwich made with three slices of white toast, turkey on the bottom layer, and bacon, lettuce, and tomato on the top layer with mayo spread all throughout, cut into quarters -- each held together with cocktail sticks.

Commandment XV, ???

Hey, also, what city are you from?

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  1. meh. you lost me at XII, A Reuben can have pastrami or corned beef, and the proper dressing is Russian.

    21 Replies
    1. re: nkeane

      OK, I can respect that. What city you from?

      1. re: JeetJet

        JeetJet: are you from Joisey? Love love love your name! Assume you are related to WayrdJeet and WadJeet and WhoodJeetWit? I work with them here in Philly.

        Don't forget:

        Thou shalt always accompany thy sandwich with a large pickle of the kosher garlic dill variety, allowing the juice from said pickle to flow forth into the edges of thy sandwich's crust..

        1. re: PattiCakes

          Hey, PattiCakes. How ya doin, huh? Love love love your name! Yeah, we spent summertimes in New Egypt. Dad built a log cabin on da lake not far from Marshal’s Corner. I got four bruddas. WodJeet? is the oldest -- a real Hard Case from Brooklyn. My respect fo da kosher garlic dill law. PattiCakes, whadaya think bout dat Patty Melt Commandment? Am I right-on wit da two patty rule? Is dat wot yews expect in Philly?

          1. re: JeetJet

            We don't roll wid a Patty Melt like that in Philly. We do cheese steaks. Whiz and Whiz wit.

            BTW, "yews" are bushes. "Youz" is the correct spelling, unless youz is from Pittsburgh, then it's "Yins". Hey, it's a strange state.

            KaimukiMan: I second your amendment. Avocado does not belong on a righteous form of deli anywhere, anyplace,anyhow. It should be banned, and penalties assesed for it's use.

            Do we need to add a Commandment for thick liverwurst ("liverwish", here in Philly) on rye, plain yellow mustard (no foo-foo stone-ground crap), onions, & maybe sharp rat cheese sliced right offa da brick (no pre-sliced)?

            1. re: PattiCakes

              Gee,Tanks. but ah "Is dat wot yews expect" is da way my bruddas talk and wot I learned from dem.. Unless maybe , " Is dat wot youz guys expect?" No two Patties?

              1. re: JeetJet

                One Patti is plenty, as my husband would say.

                1. re: PattiCakes

                  Patti melt always one for me, wheat not rye, cheddar and onions true. Another MI thing I guess.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    kchurch, how many burger patties needed to make it old school? Also, whadaya think? Her be/n from Philly and all, do think that maybe PattiCakes is the dawta of Mr. TastyCakes?

                  2. re: PattiCakes

                    I've actually never had a Patty Melt with more than one patty. Can't quite see why this matters.

                2. re: PattiCakes

                  Liverwurst is one of my favorites but yellow mustard would ruin it for me. Deli mustard only please. No cheese either, kosher style only.

                  1. re: coll

                    Yellow's what I mostly grew up with, speckled horseradish mustard a later favorite, Gulden's the ultimate. I'll eat whatever's on the table. I do have to admit that my favorite is with Swiss and some sliced HB egg, but I don't necessarily do kosher; I'm a lapsed Methodist.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Thanks for the compliment, Guldens was invented here (family mansion nearby anyway!) and although I have other boutique favorites, have to say it's pretty special. I always took it for granted.

                  2. re: PattiCakes

                    Mmmm....isn't that "youse" and "you-uns"? (We heard the latter in southeast Missouri when I was growing up. Quite declasse according to my schoolteacher-loaded family.)

              2. re: nkeane

                A Rueben is corned beef, a Black Forest is pastrami. I guess a traditional Rueben is Russian dressing (or 1000 Island, I can't remember, because everyone uses whatever they have) but I don't think anyone would blink at mustard either. I definitely prefer mustard myself. Almost anything on rye should be accompanied by mustard.

                A patty melt I thought was tuna fish? But I'm originally from NYC area , where Ruebens originated ;-). Surprised they make them all over actually.

                1. re: coll

                  so what you're saying is that a rueben HAS TO HAVE corned beef but can have either thousand or russian, which ever they have on hand. color me confused......and save me the link to a wiki page of questionable truthfulness.

                  the only other thing I have ever heard a pastrami refered to as is a Rachel. But a Rueben is more about the rye bread(please no light, or the dreaded marble rye!) Kraut, swiss cheese and Russian(yes I have seen and ate ones with Thousand, not my cup of schmaltz.....). I prefer a Pastami rueben simply for the smoky flavor to offset the sour-Kraut and fatty cheese and dressing. but whatevah!!

                  1. re: coll

                    A patty melt is strictly beef. It is grilled rye bread, cheese, grilled onions and a hamburger patty. One can make a 'tuna melt' which uses tuna salad and omits the grilled onions.

                    1. re: kmcarr

                      Most of the tuna melts that I've seen in the LA area are offered on grilled sourdough, usually listed as "Tuna Melt on Grilled Sourdough", in case you didn't know what you were gonna get. I always get my patty melts on that, too, which seems to have gotten a lot of folks riled up here...THEN IT'S NOT REALLY A PATTY MELT, IS IT??
                      Hey call it what you want. Call it Emily if you want. It's my damn sandwich.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Hey Will, I found it, Carl's Jr. calls it a "Frisco Burger" because of Sourdough coming from Frisco and all...

                      2. re: kmcarr

                        I've always had mine with Thousand Island Dressing on it. Yum! It must be a Connecticut thing because I haven't found one made like that anywhere else.

                    2. re: nkeane

                      corned beef always and thousand island always, dearborn MI originally Just a thought.

                    3. LOL! Jeet, your post made me laugh. As a Southerner, I'm ill-versed in the intricacies of pastrami vs. reubens vs. patty melts, but I can definitely appreciate your point. I'm beginning to learn that the Northern "what's authentic/good deli?" debate is similar to the eternal Southern "what's the best BBQ?" question.

                      We had "patty melts" on the grill menu in college at the University of South Carolina, and your version sounds pretty close - IIRC, I think you could substitute wheat or white bread, though.

                      1. I would like to amend XV to add: Thou shalt not include the green fruit known as avocado on thy Club Sandwich.

                        1. 11: More important than the bread (a kaiser roll is acceptable) is that the pastrami must be kept hot in a steam line pan with some water in the bottom, and picked up with a carving fork and put on the slicer or hand carved with each order Any other form of maintaining the meat should be considered traif - verboten - nicht for essen. Serving pre-sliced should be grounds for capital punishment.

                          12: Using pastrami makes it a rachel, which also uses cole slaw instead of the kraut. Either russian or 1000 island are acceptable.

                          13. What - what's a pattymelt?

                          14. While the very first club (Saratoga Springs, 1800's) was indeed a turkey club, it's been over a hundred years since a club is anything with an added layer of BLT with mayo added and cut into quarters. So a turkey club is as you described, but a ham'n cheese club or a roast beef club or bologna club are all legit club sandwiches. But not using white toasted bread is a sin comparable to worshipping the golden calf - the earth will surely split open...

                          15: Fresh pickles - half-sours - are mandatory. Not dill, sweet gherkins, breadn'butter, or any other fully pickled cucumber. Full sours (no dill) are ok to have available, but the pickle that comes with the sandwich is a half-sour - or just get out of the business.

                          My pet peeve is what passes for a deli up here in the Boston area. Anyone can call themselves a deli - I swear there's probably a place serving Chinese food with a deli sign outside, just as long as they have boar's ass crapacola. If you don't serve chopped liver and real rye bread (the soft stuff doesn't count), you're not a deli. You can serve Italian cold cuts, but you'd better have a knish or some kishke with gravy or at the very, very least - a big block of marbled halvah in the case. But isn't that like the FIRST THREE COMMANDMENTS?

                          I am the deli, your god.
                          Though shalt have no other deli before me.
                          You shall not make wrongful use of the name of deli.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: applehome

                            agree with much of what applehome says, but I always thought that what made a club a club was the middle piece (the club) of bread. For example, much as I hate to admit it, a Big Mac is indeed a "club" sandwich.

                            1. re: applehome

                              Which means that the pastrami has to be from the navel/plate, not the brisket or (horrors) round - lean pastrami is meant for eating as a cold cut, while the far superior fatty pastrami is the only cut that benefits from the double boiler/steaming technique. It's always sad to see a place that doesn't know the important different in uses of the different cuts of pastrami.

                              And I will also give a nod to new pickles with such a sandwich.

                              And say that, when you replace the mayo with peanut butter in a BLT, you no longer have a BLT but something superior.

                              1. re: applehome

                                Applehome, I thank the Deli for you. You made me realize that the FIRST THREE COMMANDMENTS are more likely of the Mel Brooks school than the Charlton Heston. Also, very good editing - you are a loyal servant of the Deli, thy God. Just to follow your additions....

                                IV, For in six days the Deli made the Dagwood and the Club, the Bagel w/ cream cheese & Lox and every other true sandwich on the earth and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Chowhound is blessed with the Pig-Out Day..

                                V, You shall not covet your neighbour’s Hoagie; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife’s Finger sandwiches, or torpedo, or anything that belongs to your neighbour or his wife.

                                VI, The first burrito you shall redeem with a lamb double dip.

                                1. re: applehome


                                  XI - A pastrami on rye is the only way, Kaiser roll is a far second place and jfood almost gets a tick in his shoulder when one of the little jfoods wants to order it hat way.

                                  And jfood agrees with the rest

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Actually, I totally agree. The issue is that nobody up this way, a long 200 miles outside of NYC, even begins to understand what a rye bread is. So you end up being safer ordering a roll. Of course, even then, it's not a kaiser any more... it's a bulkie. Oy vey iz mir!

                                    1. re: applehome

                                      oy fer un gut bulkie.

                                      jfood is 25 miles outside new york and no one here understands that when you order a hard roll it is supposed to crunch a little on the outside. And for a return of Zeppies down in randolph, best stickies around.

                                      And BOARS head and pastrami, OMG r u kiddin? might as well complete the desecration and place it on white bread with mayo....blech

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Hard rolls are also supposed to go stale within hours. And hand-clopped hard rolls are vanishing with each year - instead, some machine impresses rather than folds over the dough, which is not proper hard roll.... Oy.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          boars head and prima taglia are about the only pastrami that I can get here. sigh.
                                          orowheat the best rye (at least it has caraway seeds in it)

                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                            Make your own pastrami - you'd be surprised how good it can be. Even starting out with a store-bought corned beef brisket, it comes out good. You have to have a smoker that can do a brisket for 4-6 hours (less than a Texas bbq brisket, because you're going to finish it by braising). I use hickory. Make sure that you soak the store-bought corned beef in water for 2 days, changing the water out often, otherwise it comes out way too salty - it's still faster than corning your own brisket from raw, which can take 4-5 days. After soaking, let dry, then dry rub with a mixture of crushed coriander seeds, mustard seeds (I use brown and yellow), black pepper, granulated garlic and granulated onion, and leave in the fridge overnight. Smoke for 4-6 hours at no more than 250F - inside should be at 180F - don't let it get hotter, as you don't want it falling apart. You can store in fridge or freezer or finish to eat right away. To finish, braise in water (water 1/2 way up sides in a dutch oven or deep pan with aluminum foil to seal) at 250F for 1-2 hours.

                                            The really cheap point cuts are sometimes so fatty that they have little meat on them once you get through - the fat gets rendered and they shrink to nothing. So if you're going with a supermarket cheap corned beef, stick with the flat. But if you can get a good quality point cut with the deckle in tact, it can turn out really great. Honestly - there are times when I think I can match Katz's (I know - impossible... but it sure beats driving 400 miles for a pastrami sandwich).

                                            1. re: applehome

                                              thanks applehome, now if i just didn't live in a condo.... ah well, good to know there are alternatives.

                                              1. re: applehome

                                                Noice. And here I just got the new Weber Smokey Mountain! Any tips on buying the corned beef? I'm near the LI Fairway, and I know they have prime brisket, but I don't recall seeing any real choices in corned beefs. They always seem to come in a sealed, opaque bag. Any brands I should look for?

                                                1. re: sbp

                                                  There are so many cheap, sealed bag corned beef everywhere, it's hard to tell what's what. Coming up to St. Paddy's day, the grocery stores are going to be filled with this stuff - from $1.59/lb to $3.49/lb. They probably all come from one or two processing plants. I don't have any particular brands I like better than others, and I'll admit that it's sort of hit or miss. Everything's edible - but whether you end up with "damned near Katz's" or "well... it was good, but..." - is really up to what comes out of the bag. It's somewhat out of your control. I mainly just get home, open the bag and decide which one to use for pastrami and which to just braise and eat as corned beef.

                                                  The rules are - point cut is better than flat, especially if it has been cut with a good portion of the deckle (the layer on top of the flat). The issues is that the fat layer in between the two sections can sometimes be overwhelming. You still want to cook it in tact, but it shrinks a lot and then you still probably want to trim off what's left. I mean - I'm a fat lover, my tolerance for not-so-well trimmed pastrami is way higher than my wife's. And yet, sometimes, even I get overwhelmed. So buying a flat cut, for these purposes, is not such a bad thing. They're going to be layers of fat anyway - that's what these cheap briskets are all about. It's just that one huge fat layer between the main part and the deckle that can be so big that it ruins the final product. One way to look at it is - for $1.89/lb, who cares? I'll make three, trim them down to nothing, and still be ahead of the game. But cutting across the sections is what makes such a nice slice of pastrami - like having the cap on a rib-eye. It's just nice when you get the right piece like that. Oh - and to be clear - trimming before you smoke it is completely verboten. Losing that fat as it renders down and into the muscle is... well... you might as well go eat that Boar's head "black pastrami" - from the round - with mayo on white.

                                                  The local butcher makes his own - very high quality - but it's gray (non-nitrated). I've found that gray corned beef just doesn't work for pastrami. Wrong flavor, wrong texture.

                                                  So the way to gain control over the meat quality is to corn your own - I've followed Ruhlman's recipe in his book Charcuterie with success (using pink salt). My only problem is that I can't work with whole briskets, like I do for my bbq brisket - I don't have anything big enough to pickle a whole one. So I end up cutting into halves anyway - the point and the flat. Generally, I save the flat for kosher style braising, and corn and then smoke the point, for pastrami. You have to have a fairly dust and germ free environment for brining that doesn't fluctuate in temp a lot. I have a German ceramic pickling crock that has weights and a water seal on top, but it's not big enough for the whole brisket. I don't have enough room in the fridge (brining in the fridge takes twice as long, but is still safer), so I don't do this in the summer. But the rest of the year, leaving the jug in the basement keeps it cool and consistent enough for brining and pickling. Here's a source for the Gairtopf/Harsch crocks if you're interested - I have the 20 liter - maybe if I had the 50 liter, I could do whole briskets (and enough kraut to cure scurvy forever).


                                                  BTW - I use the same crock whether I'm desalinating store-bought, or pickling my own. Ruhlman shows pictures of using a plastic storage box and putting it in the fridge - I just never have enough room in my fridge.

                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                    A lot of people seem to think Best is the best. I don't like it enough to buy a whole one though, as there's only two of us. so I'm going by word of mouth.

                                                    1. re: applehome

                                                      Thanks. Lots of detail! By the way, re trimming off fat pre-smoking, I've done this with the skin and fat on a pork shoulder, but here's the trick - I don't toss it out, I lay it on top during the smoke. The fat renders into the meat, there's enough air space for bark to form, and afterwards, you just pluck it off. Easier to trim a firm raw slab of meat then a fully smoked one that's just waiting to fall apart.

                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                        Instead of pickling the meat for your pastrami, you can dry cure a whole brisket in a ziploc bag in the fridge. You can use the space above it to store other things since weighting it is good. Turn it over every day or two. A whole brisket will take from 14 - 28 days to cure, depending on the thickness and the spice intensity you want. While this is much longer than brining, it is absurdly easy and the resulting pastrami, IMO, tastes better.

                                                        I agree that nitrate free corned beef is fine, but nitrate free pastrami is just not right.

                                                        1. re: embee

                                                          I take it you use DQ#2 (potassium nitrate) instead of DQ#1/pink salt (sodium nitrite) for the dry rub? For that long of a process, nitrate would seem to be a better choice.

                                                          For me, I just don't have the room to spare. A whole brisket is bigger than a shelf (I have one of those vertical 1/2 split fridges), so I can squeeze it in there diagonally (I do when I'm smoking the whole thing as q and dry rub it and leave it overnight). But I have to clear out a shelf, and that often involves coolers and such. A 1/2 Brisket (point or flat) would be easier to manage, but still, the idea of something taking up that much room in the fridge for so long is a bit much. I've always wanted a second fridge - but I don't particularly want this one to be my second fridge because of the width issue, so getting a new fridge and making this one the second in the garage or basement isn't such a good idea. I should just buy a used fully wide one.

                                                          Maybe I'll try this with a 1/2 Brisket. Do you do this both for Pastrami and Corned Beef or just for Pastrami? Have you eaten it as corned beef before smoking, and is it good that way? I would imagine that the salt content of the rub is going to need to be carefully measured (somewhat) - I mean it's not baking, but you have to achieve the point where the cure is complete, but the meat is not so salty that you can't eat it. By the time the salt and nitrate have penetrated to the core, is the outside too salty to eat? That's my problem with the commercial corned beefs. I can barely stand the saltiness when eating them as corned beef, but when smoked into a pastrami they're inedible - which is why I desalinate them. Brining has the advantage in terms of penetration and even treatment of the meat. But these commercial ones are brined, so obviously, you can oversalt there as well.

                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                            I presumed a retail half brisket. I couldn't fit a whole one into my fridge either.

                                                            Since the "pink salt" I get is white, I always get confused about this terminology. If I am curing a large brisket, I would usually use Prague Powder #1 whether I am brining or dry curing. I would use PP #2 for something that will hang outside of the fridge to age/dry.

                                                            I rinse my dry cured meat many times and then let it dry before smoking. For pastrami, I use a water pan in the smoker. For brined meat, rinsing more than once is a judgment call.

                                                            I do not use any nitrate in a corned beef cure. I don't care if it's gray - I find it actually tastes better. For pastrami, the nitrate seems to be part of the flavour - I assume an interaction with the smoke.

                                                            Depending on how I've spiced it and the size of the brisket, I will sometimes use some of the curing solution in my corned beef braising liquid.

                                                            Where I live, Toronto, I haven't found a pre cured brisket at a rational price that approached edibility, however enhanced. This is undoubtedly not the case in many other places.
                                                            For a small piece of brisket, I use Tender Quick. The Prague powder is too concentrated relative to the weight of the meat.

                                                            1. re: embee

                                                              That's interesting. In the US, it's illegal (AFAIK) to sell sodium nitrite without the pink coloring. So whatever the brand, #1 is always pink and #2 (pottasium nitrate/saltpeter) is usually a yellowish tint (although that isn't mandated by law). The brands I've seen here are DQ and Instacure.

                                                              The pink salt sold here is already significantly diluted - it is 6.25% sodium nitrite and the rest salt. And then, the brine recipe I use (from Ruhlman) dilutes it further with only 5 teaspoons (25 grams) per gallon of water, where you're also adding another 2 cups of salt.

                                                              I always use a water pan in my smoker - I think everything - ribs, sausages, and all forms of brisket and pork butte, come out better when not totally dried out. Even when I made landjaeger, which is supposed to be a dry sausage almost like a jerky, I used the water pan while smoking and then let it hang afterwards to finish drying in my "sausage box" - which is just a clean vertical box I keep in the cool basement.

                                                        2. re: applehome

                                                          ive had nothing but success using a large cooler(50qt.)for brining, desalinating, or marinating large cuts. In 90degree weather, I put it in the basement(or any place with little temp fluctuation, an interior closet works in the absence of a basement) and add a couple trays of ice cubes to the water every day. works perfectly.

                                          2. Reubens have Russian Dressing!