We've been enjoying the much-lauded Niman Ranch navel pastrami at Chez Noshstalgia this week. My cousin Jon ordered it for us from Niman's web store. I have to say, as others have, that Niman's meat is of notably high-quality vs. most other pastrami. They supplied two navel plates in the order - both packed in a single vacuum sealed wrap.
They provided no cooking or heating directions in the package, but their website suggests steaming for "up to two hours". I steamed a whole plate for about 100 minutes, flipping the piece once around 20 minutes before the end. Then, of course, I hand slice. I do it on a steaming rack in a thermostatically controlled electric skillet that does a good job of providing gentle steam. Mine has a glass lid, so you can - if you wish - stand mesmerized by the sight of fat running out of the meat in many places as it cooks. I am reminded now of the fascination one experiences on visiting a geologically active area with steam vents, geysers, and the occasional volcanic event - except the pastrami smells much better than that. And even at $60 with shipping, the Niman's pastrami purchase was comparatively economical.
So, is it any good? You betcha. Not a classic New York flavor and aroma profile. Certainly not Romanian-style. But very good. Very aromatic, strongly peppered, tender, gently processed texture, and a prime-like (and perhaps actually prime) degree of marbling contributes to a very satisfying mouth-feel. I liked the product, although while I found the spice profile distinctive and appealing - it is very present and struck me as a bit monolithic - very over-all, very homogenized. A deli expert I consulted (from whom I've not yet obtained permission for direct attribution on this - but I will seek it and amend the post when obtained) said he thought the product had seen too much bay leaf. I confess, I couldn't pin it down to that myself - but he's a real expert so perhaps that was it. But whether classic NY-style or not, it was very enjoyable. Thank you, Jon.
One more note on this over-all-ness, this homogeneity. Is this a bad thing? Generally? Maybe not - certainly where commercial pastrami is concerned I can't point to any counter examples. So why even mention it? Maybe this observation comes to me because I'm thinking of - yearning for - a more Artisanal product - one that's got more edges and spikes - flavor and aroma variation throughout and around the product. By way of analogy, consider the difference between Artisanal and industrial cheeses. The best of the farm-house products present at least a chamber work and sometimes even a symphony of related but distinct bodies, textures, aromas, and flavors. And the industrial products? Well, you know...