Katz’s Pastrami (photo credit: christopherfarber.com)
Gird yourselves deli lovers, because a great debate is about to rage up.
Gourmet Magazine (which will shortly publish a story of mine on deli), has a post by famed New York food critic Robert Sistema on weighing Schwartz’s smoked meat vs. Katz’s pastrami, both of which are eaten within hours of each other. This is a taste test of champions. Read on:
My wife, Gretchen, and I recently found ourselves faced with a unique opportunity: to eat the famed smoked meat of Montreal, then travel back to New York and taste our home city’s notorious counterpart, pastrami, all within a few hours of each other. This rare, real-time comparison turned into a pastrami vs. smoked meat smackdown, as we tried to answer the fundamental question: “Which is better?”
Located on Montreal’s St. Laurent Boulevard—an area of small ethnic eateries and run-down architecture—Schwartz’s styles itself as a “Charcuterie Hebraique,” or Jewish deli. Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant, the deli has long been considered Montreal’s foremost purveyor of “smoked meat,” which everyone agrees is similar in several ways to New York’s pastrami, made from a whole brisket that’s been rubbed with spices and smoked. But there the similarities end.
The story goes on to weigh the two, with a split decision (Sistema prefers Schwartz’s, his wife likes Katz’s).
Check it out on Gourmet.com and add your comments here or there.
Here’s what I said:
A fine comparison, and one that many people care about, but I think we can add even more to it. First off Robert, you misunderstood the Schwartz’s folks. They cure the briskets for 10-14 days (depending on size and season), then smoke them for 6 hours. Katz’s pastrami goes through similar treatment, and neither uses wood (though they both once did). Nick Zukin is right about the brisket and navels. Navels are what NY pastrami is made of. it’s the bacon of beef. Smoked meat is exclusively made with brisket. The texture, fat distribution, and inherent flavor there are entirely different. The spicing, though based in the same Romanian principles, is also different. NY pastrami is more aromatic, less spicy, and is laid on much thicker than smoked meat’s spices. It has a sour tang to it, which makes the whole experience much more heady. Smoked meat has a similar, though simpler spicing, with less sugar, more pepper, and fewer aromatic notes. But this is really besides the point. We’re talking apples and pears here (not quite oranges). I’ve eaten both many many times from the finest purveyors and delis around the world (see savethedeli.com for evidence), and am happy to find a place in my heart for smoked meat and pastrami. They are cousins, kindred spirits, and blessed gifts to deli lovers anywhere. It’s not a question of Cohen vs. Dylan. We can afford to love both. Oh, and a cornichon is just French for pickle. Great article.
So, Schwartz’s or Katz’s? Pastrami or Smoked Meat? I’m guessing this will be a geographically predictable debate, but I’ll let you start screaming away.