Friday, November 5, 2010

Venison Pastrami Reuben

Large group of grazing mule deer in the distance.

     Venison is readily available in Wyoming this time of the year.  There are so many deer that the cops are allowed to kill more than 75 deer within residential city limits.  "Put an orange collar on Fido, the 'Good Ol' Boys' are hunting with handguns!"  Unfortunately, the deer are more comfortable in town than they are in the wilderness because of the pressure the annual hordes of hunters place upon the animals.  Also, they have more food later in the year which can be found in residential gardens and manicured lawns.  
     A friend provided a nice-sized hind leg of local whitetail deer for our enjoyment and I have decided to produce some pastrami with a portion of it.  The rest of the leg was cut into steaks and ground into a HUGE meatloaf with bison and pork for Ruby, Renee, Jimmy and me to enjoy.  They are currently working relentlessly on their mobile trailer, which endured some nasty road damage during their last leg from the east coast.  Holiday season brings distant family together and soon we will have 11-12 guests for Thanksgiving this year; a real treat for Ruby and I who rarely enjoy a holiday with family due to the demands of professional cooking schedules.

Front yard feeding is a safe choice for this whitetail fawn.

Stay alert little one.


     I have recently made a bunch of corned venison with cabbage, carrots and potatoes from the doe that was donated to us last year.  However, I have not made pastrami before, and I have yet to 'go for the gusto' and make a venison reuben sandwich from scratch (except for the swiss cheese).  Rye bread, saurkraut, pastrami, swiss cheese and Russian (thousand island) dressing are the traditional components of a reuben, which is warmed on a griddle and served hot.  The reuben sandwich is a quintessential 'melt' of heaping flavor that tastes, in my opinion, like deli.  The pickled cabbage, peppery, smoked meat and sour rye combine to create a ubiquitous flavor one can only associate with American delicatessens.
     Pastrami is corned beef brisket which is coated in cracked black pepper and coriander, smoked to an internal temp of 150°F, then steamed for 2-3 hours.  However, I will be using the eye of round cut from the hind leg of the deer.  Brisket is from the chest of the animal, which is not very large on deer.  The pastrami is brined for 7 days in sodium nitrite, kosher salt, spices and water.  Sodium nitrite tenderizes and maintains a red-colored flesh while preventing the possibility of lethal botulism bacterial growth.  Increase the value, depth, and reach of the pepper and coriander by lightly toasting the spices before grinding to release the essential oils.  I decided, for this pastrami, to add some minced garlic to the exterior rub for a little extra zip.  Since oak trees don't grow out here in the northern midwest I used applewood with some alderwood mixed in to create a gracefully sweet smokiness.  I baked a rye bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D..  This is one of those few, revolutionary books you must have if you like to eat fresh bread but don't have a lot of extra time to make it.
     A few weeks ago I made a fresh batch of saurkraut which has fermented for both one and two weeks (for those who like it more strongly flavored).  Saurkraut is cabbage that has been pickled in its own juices with some salt to control the bacteria at a safe level.  This method, which uses minimal salt, relies on crushing the trapped water from the cellular structure of the leaves, which then creates a high-salinity juice for everything to pickle within.  It is important to weigh down the saurkraut with a water-filled plastic bag or ceramic dish during the fermenting to prevent spoilage.  Three tablespoons of sea salt is all that is needed for five pounds of chopped cabbage.  Sea salt is optimal for pickling vegetables because of its mineral content which keeps the product crisp and brightly colored.  The process of bashing the cabbage to obliteration is time consuming but produces an authentic, high-quality condiment.  We used to make giant batches of this stuff at work for a menu item, which I must say, is both fun and painstakingly arduous.  
     I made a stop-motion film with photographs to document the process.  This short film depicts an hour-long process of cabbage bashing followed by weights, filled with water, placed on top to keep the product submerged.  It just so happened that a dear old friend, and fermented cabbage aficionado, Mortimer Bickle stopped by during a business trip while I was putting together the video and offered to provide a voice-over for informational enrichment.   

                                         Soundtrack by Garage a Trois


And now I feel the need to apologize for that.  I know, It was pretty bad . . . Sorry.

Finished saurkraut (weighted down and covered loosely with plastic wrap) ready to ferment.

Deli Style Rye
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.*

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbs granulated [active-dry] yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 Tbs kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbs caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 cup rye flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel [or thin board]
Cornstarch wash [1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with small amount of water added to 1/2 cup water.  Bring to boil or microwave for 30-60 seconds on high until mixture appears glassy.]

  • Mix the yeast, salt and caraway seed with the water in a 5 qt bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
  • Mix in remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon ... or heavy duty stand mixer (with dough hook)...
  • Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  • Refrigerate ... for two more hours and use for up to 14 days.
  • Preheat oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack.  Place an empty broiler tray on any other [rack] that won't interfere with the rising bread.
  • Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit sized) piece.  Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.  Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf.  Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-crusted pizza peel [thin board] for 40 minutes.
  • Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with cornstarch wash and then sprinkle with additional caraway seeds.  Slash with deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
  • Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone.  Pour one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.
  • Allow to cool before slicing...

Venison Pastrami

Corning Brine
     *This brine recipe is the same I use to make corned venison, just simmer it in a covered pot with water and aromatics for 5 hours.

3-4 lb venison round or loin (with excess fat and silver-skin removed)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 oz sodium nitrite (Instacure #1)
5 dried bay leaves
4 Tbs black pepper
3 Tbs coriander seed
1 tsp whole mustard seed
1/2 gallon water

Smoking Rub

2 Tbs coriander seed, freshly ground
5 Tbs black pepper, freshly ground
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • Combine all brine ingredients and bring up to simmer, stir to disolve salts.
  • Cool to room temperature in plastic food-safe container large enough to accommodate the roast and brine.
  • Place meat in brine so that it is completely submerged, use a stone or weight to hold it down if necessary.
  • Brine for 7 days in refrigerator.
  • Remove from brine, rinse and dry.
  • Coat in mixture of garlic and lightly toasted, ground black pepper and coriander. 
  • Smoke at 225-255°F over oak, apple, plum, cherry, alder or hickory wood until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.  
  • Remove from smoke and place on rack above steam tray and cover. Place in 275°F oven or on low heat on the stovetop .
  • Lightly steam for 2-3 hours.
  • Slice very thin, serve warm or cold.

Russian Dressing (Thousand Island)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1/4 cup sweet relish


3 Tbs sea salt
5 lbs thinly chopped cabbage
1 tsp caraway seed

Deer Reuben Sandwich,

     You taste good.  
Well, actually you taste great!  Thanks for being delicious.  

Your friend,  



*Francois, Zoe , and Jeff Hertzberg. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.


  1. WOW!!!
    This is my favorite sandwich!!!
    I would like a slice of swiss cheese on it.
    I'm getting my food fix just reading all these recipe's and I'm not getting the calories. I wish I was really eating it though.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.


  2. This reminded me of some moose pastrami I made during the fall. Sooo good! Ive since made rye bread dozens of time using birch syrup oatmeal and equal parts flour/rye. Tasty as. There are parts of Canada you would never interchange the words 1000 island and Russian Dressing without being screamed at by some crazy deli dude! lmao!

  3. I wish I could get a hold of some moose. Truly delicious meat. That rye sounds nice too! Thanks for the deli-safety tip, I'll be sure to keep the name right if I ever vacation up there. No one wants to be stabbed with pickle spears and bludgeoned with hard rolls! :)

  4. Is it a full 1 ounce instacure by weight?

  5. I used 1 full once of instacure #1, but you could use as little as 1/8th teaspoon per pound of meat of pink salt.