Most of us know what pastrami is, at least sort of. It sounds Italian, but it’s actually Turkish in origin, dating back to before Turkey was called Turkey (Asia Minor). Basically, pastrami is corned beef that has been coated with a peppery mustardy crust and smoked. Pastrami is the stuff that’s almost as good as corned beef on a Reuben, and maybe even better. Ironically, turkey, the bird, is also commonly made into pastrami, or pastramied, or whatever it would be called. So far as I can tell, the bird we call turkey has nothing to do with the country we call Turkey, even though Hungary is not that far away. Moving on.
It’s been too long to matter, but the word pastrami itself is a bastardized version of a few different words in a few different languages, referring vaguely to curing/drying/and most specifically PRESSING meat. Ancient preservation methods included drying meat by squeezing out the juice. Pressing will dry meat. And so will curing it with salt. These days we call that modifying the available H2O. So, the history gets all jumbled up, but, for sure, at no point in time did pastrami ever refer to cantaloupe, melon, fruit, or basically anything that didn’t have a face.
No. We are not going to cook the cantaloupe. And I know a lot of our readers know that “sous vide” itself doesn’t literally refer to actually COOKING anything, but rather, doing whatever you’re going to do with it under vacuum. You outdoorsmen, you catch a trout, you seal it in a bag, and then you either cook it and eat it or freeze it “sous vide.” Even so, most sous vide items are cooked at some point.
Once chefs started adding vacuum chambers to their kitchens so they could vacuum seal various foods, they noticed that just the simple action of removing the air from the package could have a dramatic effect on the food inside. Especially if you turned the machine up high enough. Foodsaver type devices don’t really apply quite enough vacuum to achieve inspiring results, but they can “kinda” do it.
And, so, the first I heard of sous vide processed fruit was when Keller compressed a little piece of watermelon to the point where it assumed the texture of and even vague resemblance to meat. Yikes. This process hasn’t exactly acquired the following of Boulud’s 72 hour short ribs, but it’s still pretty amazing.
Oh, right. When I was a little kid, we lived far away from my parents’ respective homes. Mom was from Houston, and Pop was from Scranton. We would visit each place in alternating years, cramming us three kids in the ’58 Olds with no air conditioning and setting out for Texas or Pennsylvania every August. There’s some stories there, but maybe some other time.
My father’s mom wasn’t very interested in kids, she would vain refer to us as “brats” and gently stroke our hair while muttering “You’re no good.” We didn’t mind so much, at least we weren’t crammed into a ’58 Olds outside of Oklahoma City, dying for an A&W. And she wasn’t much of a cook either, nobody really seemed to be back then. But she did introduce me to one thing. She would offer me an apple for a snack when I got bored in the afternoon, and she would peel it and sprinkle a little salt on it. This woman didn’t put salt in much, but she put it on my apple. I liked it. Good times.
Ever since then, I can put salt on any fruit and enjoy it, along with the sort of evocative childhood memory sensation, the longing for simpler times and so forth. In retrospect, the 60’s weren’t very simple; they were actually pretty awful, what with the Cold War and riots in our cities. Again, moving on.
I don’t put salt on bananas. But, any melon is good, and of course the apple. Pears, very good, and eventually the ground pepper finds its way on there too, why not? I’ve been making pastrami lately, and that really is a great flavor combination, very zesty. I had some there on the counter, and I had some cantaloupe, and I didn’t feel like writing just then. So, what the heck.
Take your cantaloupe, and cut off the ends. Stand it up on one of them, and peel it with a knife; try to go all the way to the bottom with one clean stroke. Work your way around the melon until you have that oblong sphere. Cut the cantaloupe along the spine into fourths, and trim down the tips from the inside, so you have a flat, steak looking thing. Eat those little tips, they’re good. With a little salt, right?
I did the melon two ways. This time I sprinkled heavily with pastrami cure (no nitrite), wrapped a piece in a clean towel and sealed it in the bag. I cranked up the chamber vacuum to a forty second cycle, that’s gonna get pretty tight. It’s not only the water that the vacuum pulls out. There’s a lot of air in that cantaloupe, and it pulls that all out, too. There’s even MORE air in watermelon. You can see how tight it got, and you have to peel off the towel, which is not soaked, but it’s wet.
It looks a bit like cured salmon, and you do see pastrami salmon out there, so I thought I would take advantage of the power of suggestion.
The texture isn’t leathery, but it’s kinda like leather if fruit was leather to begin with. Kina dry to the touch, and darkened. If it sits for a long time it will start to wither; I suspect the cells in the fruit have been squeezed hard enough to burst. In fact, I’m quite sure of it. No matter, the texture is not really so crisp, but it’s firm and the flavor is way concentrated, even with all that spice on it. I didn’t try to slice it as thin as you would Lox, but it’s possible. I did it in another recipe recently HERE.
Now, I know that onion looks totally fake. That’s a sous vide red onion, 183F/84Cx1 hour. It looks fake to me. But here’s the thing. If I photo shopped the onion to look like that, everything else on the plate would look even weirder. The color of red onions on the inside varies a lot, and that’s just the one I grabbed. Usually, they’re more gray after processing.
Licorice root gastrique, mustard, balsamic, Cholula, hey, nobody else has to eat it. It was phenomenal.
I did one without the towel, and you can see, it doesn’t really leak that much juice out. It’s different. Moister, as you would expect, and more melon like and less rag-like, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Otherwise, the same process.
Is it a salad? Or a dessert? Or is it just a course, like a Keller thing? Be careful what you wish for.
I know, very FREAK