History of Salt Beef
Pastrami was introduced to NY during the late 19th Century when Jewish immigrants flocked to these shores. A Lithuanian miller named Sussman Volk is credited for making the first pastrami sandwich at his kosher deli on Delancey Street. He actually got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for watching the man’s belongings while he travelled back to Europe. Not a bad exchange at all. Hell, I’d watch somebody’s toiletries or whatever just for a bite of that original sandwich.
Corned beef’s history is a bit more controversial. Many people think the Irish brought corned beef to America, but in actuality the Irish didn’t start eating the stuff until they immigrated to New York in the late 19th Century. The original dish most red nosed, green-garbed drunks like to eat nowadays on St. Patty’s Day was actually cabbage and bacon. It was their NY Jewish neighbors that introduced them to a cheaper alternative – corned beef.
So what’s the difference between these two deli sandwich staples? Not a whole lot. Both are basically preserved meats. See, back in the days before refrigerators existed (how did they keep their Britas cold?) meat was preserved in brines and spices. And this is where we get two of our favorite deli meats. Both come from the brisket (or the navel) cut and are cured or pickled in a salt brine.
After the curing, our two heros part ways. Corned beef is then usually boiled while pastrami is coated in a spice mixture, smoked, and then slowly steamed.
The name corned beef refers to the coarse grains of salt called “corns”. No hidden corn syrup or corn starch in the beef (although nowadays, you never know). And pastrami comes from the Romanian word pastram, meaning preserved. The “i” at the end may have been added to sound more like salami, a very popular meat, which you may have heard of.
And nobody knows how to make these meats and sandwich them between rye bread, smothered with spicy mustard, and garnished with a pickle than the classic New York delicatessens. This is where the European Jewish population came and this is where they ate