Being deprived of deli is a terrible thing, especially when geographic circumstances render it so distant as to be prohibitive. Once in a while I come accross people who go to great lengths to get deli to where they are. I’ve heard of people ordering Katz’s or Carnegie foods to random corners of Idaho, and I personally have shipped my brother over $100 of Lester’s smoked meat and Wilensky’s specials to Calgary by air.
So imagine my surprise in June when I received the following email from my good friend Ashley Wheaton, who works for an NGO in Dhaka, Bangledesh:
A friend of mine here in Bangladesh (Owen Lippert) recently travelled to North America and was inspired to address the lack of all things deli in Dhaka. He arrived back in the Bang with 40 lbs of smoked meat (in its own separate suitcase). He’s an Ottawa boy, so it’s from Dunns, a deli unknown to my palate but it beats dal bhat, and my parasite filled stomach is excited about whatever version of smoked meat it can get. Owen and I are currently drumming up schemes of what to do with his treasure (charity event? Canada Day party? or, just keep it to ourselves…hmmm… yes) but regardless of what fate the four slabs of heaven come to we need some serious advice on how to prepare them.
I’ve heard of deli sent to Israel, and salamis sent to Iraq, but this was a first. This was four big briskets smuggled into the heart of a Muslim country in the tropical heat of the Indian subcontinent. I consulted my sources and sent back a complete reply:
Four briskets is a shitload, and they may keep for a week or two, but the way to do this is a big event. Suffice to say there wonít be many Jews there, Iíd do a fat smoked meat party and invite anyone you can.
Bread: Youíll need to find rye bread or some form of equivalent. Canít stress this enough. If that fails, Iíd go kaiser or onion roll or pumpernickel. Something tart and fairly small. No white. No french. Nothing sweet. Source out the bakeries and hotels and procure some rye. Iíd say about 2 loaves per brisket. Each brisket will yield roughly 10 sandwiches, depending on how big you make them.
2. Steam: This is the most crucial part. You need to steam these smoked meats for 1.5-2 hours. Not boil. No water should touch the meat. A steam box is ideal, which is a big metal steamer that hotels and restaurants may have. If that fails, you need a big pot with a rack and water on the bottom. You can stack the briskets on top of one another. Get a big two-prong carving fork (like they use for roast beef) to handle the meat. you will know when the meat is ready, when the fork slides effortlessly in and out of it. Feel it at the beginning, half an hour in,and then eveyr fifteen minutes. Itís all by touch, but you should be able to take your thumb and jab it into the flesh once itís soft enough. Donít worry about steaming too long, itíll be soft and crumbly but good.
3. Slicing: The most important part. A smoked meat brisket has several parts, itís not like cutting a meatloaf. You need to find the grain, and cut against it, or across it. Think about a plank of wood. You never cut next to the lines, you cut across them. This is the difference between rubbery smoked meat and tender. Most crucial. Practice on steak.
Start from the tip of the brisket (the smaller, narrow end) where the leanest meat is. Place the carving fork into the meat and rest the back of the blade against it at a 45 degree angle pointing down. Then, using the fork as a balance, youíll slice off the meat, in reasonably thin slices, on an angle until you have enough for a sandwich. Slide the blade under the cut meat, lift it onto the bread, press down the second slice of bread and pull the knife away. Then make a bridge with your fingers over the sandwich, slide the knife underneath and slice it in half.
-keep working down the brisket, but remember to follow the grains. The fattier meat is toward the back end of the brisket, and the medium stuff is at the middle. Take the scraps that will fall with each cut, and toss them into the sandwich…thatís where a lot of the flavor is.
Use plain yellow mustard…no dijon, no flavored shit.
And then nothing. Months went by without word from Ashley. She returned to Canada for a visit, cured a few diseases, and watched riots take place in Bangledesh, but I heard no word on the deli. I suspected the meat went rancid in the humid air.
Then last week I got a flurry of emails in my inbox from Ashley, jammed with photos. Not much I can add to these. Just look at the happy faces. And I must say, the chefs did great work. I assume this was done in the Canadian embassy compound, but I’m not sure. Taken out of context those sure look like damn good deli sandwiches, better than I’ve had in many parts of North America. Considering the fact that these were in Bangledesh is just astounding.
My hat goes off to Owen, Ashley and the rest of the crew in Dhaka.
No craving for deli should ever go unsatisfied.