Both salt beef and pastrami are made from brisket, a fatty, flavourful and cheap cut from the front/underside of the cow. Brisket usually comes boned and rolled and should be cured in a wet brine. For salt beef, leave the brisket tied into a roll; if brining for pastrami, untie the piece and trim it to a neat, flat slab.
|For the brine:|
|15g||Prague powder #1 (optional)|
|2||cloves of garlic|
First, make your brine. Add the salt, sugar, Prague powder (if using), bay leaves, garlic and pickling spice to 2 litres of water. I use a mixture of mace, allspice, juniper, coriander, ginger, dried chillies and just a couple of cloves for my pickling spice, but you can go wherever you fancy with this. Bring to the boil and allow to cool.
Pack the brisket into doubled, heavy-duty resealable freezer bags. Ladle in the brine, exclude as much air as you can, then seal both bags. Place in the fridge and turn daily.
Brisket for salt beef can stay in the brine for at least 10 days before being removed, rinsed and patted dry.
Put into a lidded pot, cover with water and add your favourite aromatics. I like to keep things simple with carrots, onions and a bay leaf. You can, if you wish, add more of your pickling spice... but I'm not sure it adds anything. Simmer on top of the stove for between 2 and 4 hours. Keep the water topped up so the meat is covered. It will be done when a skewer runs through it with alarmingly little resistance.
Carve brutally into inelegant slabs while still hot. You can serve the salt beef on a plate with some simply boiled potatoes and some of the veg from the boiling process. Don't, whatever you do, serve the original ones - dredge them out with a ladle and replace with fresh carrots and onions about 20 minutes before serving time. That way you'll have something that tastes authentic but offers at least the possibility of not collapsing into a slurry on the plate. Alternatively, you can use your hot salt beef to build a Reuben.
To make a Reuben:
Smear two slices of rye bread with a thick layer of thousand island dressing. On one slice mound a pile of salt beef.
Stack a layer of sauerkraut on top of the meat, then get three or more slices of Emmenthal to sit on its chest and hold it down while you slide the lot under a hot grill.
Reunite the sandwich with its bemeared lid and serve forth with the statutory pickle. Do not expect to finish the sandwich in a single sitting. That is NOT the point.