Pastrami is a popular delicatessen meat made from lean red meat, chiefly brisket.
The raw meat is salted (through immersion in a thick brine), then partly dried, seasoned with various herbs and spices (such as garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, mustard seed, and others depending on the specific recipe, and smoked. In Canada and the United States, pastrami is made from beef and the meat is kept hot on a steam table before slicing for serving.
The English word pastrami is derived from the Yiddish: פּאַסטראָמע (pronounced pastróme). Both the dish and the word were brought to the United States with a wave of the Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century; it is a signature dish of the local Jewish cuisine of these regions. The word, however, as used in Yiddish and various languages of the Balkans (e.g. Romanian pastramă, which entered the Russian language as pastromá), is likely of Turkish origin, spread during the period of the Ottoman domination of the region. The dictionary of Yiddish gastronomic terminology and the official Romanian etymological dictionary both derive the term from Turkish pastırma.
An analogous dish is known as basturma in Armenian cuisine and as basterma in the Arab World. Early references in English spelled "pastrama", while its current form is associated with a Jewish store selling "pastrami" in New York City in 1887. It is likely that this spelling was introduced to sound related to the Italian salami.
Unlike its Jewish and derivatively modern American counterparts (where pastrami is exclusively a beef dish), in the Romanian tradition, mutton was used and over time pork became the prevalent choice. Romanians distinguish between different kinds of pastrami, depending on the meat used. When not specified, pork is implied. Romanian pastrami is usually served as a cold cut in sandwiches, but it can also be heated and served as a side dish with various foods. One such example is fried pastrami, with corn mamaliga (similar to the Italian dish polenta) and green onions.
In North America, pastrami is typically sliced and served hot on rye bread as Pastrami on rye – a classic New York deli sandwich, sometimes accompanied by cole slaw and Russian dressing. Pastrami is also commonly found in the popular Reuben Sandwich. Traditional New York pastrami is made from the navel end of the brisket, which contains considerably more fat than the chest area. It is first cured in brine like corned beef, and then coated with a mix of spices and smoked. In recent years, this version of pastrami has become hard to find, due to the scarcity of old-fashioned Jewish delicatessens.
Turkey pastrami is made by processing turkey breast in a fashion similar to red meat pastrami, simulating the corresponding red meat deli product. Turkey pastrami, and the closely related chicken breast pastrami, are very popular meat products in Israel, mainly because of their low fat content and undisputable kashrut status. Israeli pastrama (stress on the second syllable, as in pastrami) is typically served cold in sandwiches on a variety of rolls and buns, including individual-sized baguettes, pita pockets, focaccia breads, and even croissants. It is also a standard ingredient in platters of cold cuts. Beef and pork pastrama is also available in Israel, but on a more limited scale due to health and dietary considerations.
As with corned beef, pastrami was created as a method for preserving meat from spoilage in an age before modern refrigeration methods. This technique is now unnecessary, but its unique flavor still attracts many aficionados worldwide.