This delicatessen favorite undoubtedly has a place in the sandwich hall of fame, but making the perfect pastrami melt is serious business. Make sure you've got all your bases covered, from the quality of the meat, to the sandwich's supporting ingredients and finally to the cooking method. Follow these steps closely, and you'll be rewarded with an authentic and delicious all-star sandwich.
Pastrami making is a labor of love that can take several weeks, from curing to smoking to boiling and steaming just before serving. When shopping for pastrami, look for meat with a thick, dark bark of spices from the smoking process with tender, juicy, pink meat inside and balanced fat marbling throughout. Have the pastrami sliced thick, or better yet, hand carved.
Purists insist that the only bread for this sandwich is seeded rye, but the type of bread you use is really a matter of preference. Marble rye bread, with its light rye dough swirled together with cocoa-tinted rye dough, is close in taste. If you have a heartier appetite, a pastrami sandwich assembled on an Italian or French bread loaf is a filling option.
Filling the Sandwich
Additional ingredients should enhance or complement the pastrami without overpowering the meat. To satisfy the "melt" requirement of the sandwich, pair the strong, spicy pastrami flavor with mild, nutty Swiss cheese. Smoked cheddar and the mild smokiness of provolone are also great options against the smoky flavor of pastrami. Muenster, with its semisoft texture, subtly accents melt-in-your-mouth pastrami. Mustard is the condiment of choice -- usually a grainy yellow mustard or Dijon with a bit of spice. Add sour or half-sour pickles or crunchy sauerkraut so that the acidity balances the richness of the meat.
To qualify as a "melt," the pastrami should be hot with the cheese melted, but no additional cooking is required if you carve the pastrami hot and top it with cheese immediately. Pop the sandwich in a toaster oven or under a broiler if you want the cheese extra bubbly and the bread toasted. Smear butter on the outsides of the bread and cook the sandwich in a skillet for about three minutes on each side to make the pastrami melt with the crunchy, buttery qualities of a grilled cheese.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.