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Museum Musings

Pastrami Turkey

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This year, 2013, will be the last time (for roughly 70,000 years) that the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide. And coincidentally, this will also be the last time (for roughly 70,000 years) that I make Turkey Pastrami!

MMMM, Turkey Pastrami. Who wouldn’t love this combination of the quintessential Thanksgiving bird and the Romanian seasoning considered by many to be a stroke of meat marinating brilliance? No, turkey and juniper berries is not a common combination of flavors, but it is an under-used one! Pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat, a common need in the years before refrigeration, including 1621, when the first Thanksgiving was held. This leads me to believe there must have been some form of pastrami at that first Thanksgiving, 392 years ago.

Making Pastrami anything requires a lot of two things. Time and salt.

This recipe is for one boneless turkey breast, but would work just as well with a whole turkey breast, or even a whole turkey! Simply increase the brine and rub quantities proportionately.

First, we brine. Turkey brine
Brining is essential to both traditional Pastrami and traditional turkey, which is one reason this combination works so well together. The salt denatures the proteins, literally causing the muscle fibers to relax and absorb the liquid they are submerged in. Bam -- juicy goodness!

To make your brine:
Place your turkey breast into a container which has a lid.

Place about 2 quarts of cherry soda into a large pot and bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Add ½ cup kosher salt, 12 crushed garlic cloves, 3 inches grated ginger root, 2 tbls. Corriander seeds, 2 tsp. Fennel seeds, and ¼ cup Pickling Seasoning. Mix until sugar is dissolved.

Now chill this yummy goodness. You can also add ice to speed up the process, but not too much, as you don’t want to overdilute. You need this liquid to get as cool as possible. This is when you will use some of that time mentioned above. Submerge the turkey breast with the brine, close the container, and place into the refrigerator. We’re looking to keep this bird cold for 12 hours minimum, 24 hours optimally. This is where you use some more of that time.

While your bird is brining, you can make the rub. The rub is the most important part of Pastrami-ing the turkey. Adding an extra boost of flavor and a nice textural difference, there are many different options for ingredients and their ratios.

Here is the rub I like:
2 tbls. Dry Ground Mustard
2 tbls. Allspice
2 tbls. Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 tbls. Garlic Powder
2 tbls. Ground Corriander

Mix well and keep dry.

12 (or 24) hours later, prep your smoker. I use my charcoal grill, simply using twice as much charcoal as I usually do, and adding handfuls of soaked cherrywood chips. You can also use a traditional smoker, simply follow the directions which came with your unit.

Remove your breast from the brine and coat with your rub. I like to use a sifter to ensure even coating.
Place the turkey breast into the smoker and close tightly. You will need to cook like this for about 35 minutes per pound, adding more soaked wood chips as they disappear, approx. a handful every 25 minutes.

When your time is up, wrap the breast tightly in foil and allow to cool at least 2 hours.

Now your Pastrami Turkey is ready to be noshed! Either slice it cold for sandwiches, or steam the entire chunk for about 20 min over boiling water, then slice and serve at your festive meal!
Pastrami Turkey

 By Ebony Goldsmith, Marketing and Communications Assistant