June 14, 2007
Langer’s celebrates 60 years of a passion for pastrami
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Many Jews made a living as long-distance cart drivers before the railroads arrived in Europe. Needing kosher meat they could take with them, they used the same curing technique for their kosher meat and called it pastrami. At the end of the 19th century, when the great migration of Jews came to America, the Romanian Jews brought pastrami with them (it is celebrated in the Yiddish song "Rumania, Rumania"), which they made with goose before brisket and navel, serving it at their delis in New York.
From Ann Arbor, I went back to California where, to my surprise, I was on a radio program when the host Michael David Cane, with his wife, Rachel, started giving plugs for their own Old World Brand Pastrami. After the show we went to the Fog City Diner to taste the Canes' pastrami, which they cure themselves. The pastrami, spicy and delicious, was served in a Reuben sandwich, traditionally made with corned beef. Cane, who is infatuated with pastrami, is now making it for David Burke, chef at David and Donatella in New York.
"I was a private cook in Norway and made gravlax every day," Burke said. "Later, when I came to New York, I thought, 'Why not make a pastrami cure for salmon?' Now there is duck pastrami, yellow tail pastrami, pastrami squab, you name it. People are looking for spicy. It is a value added to corned beef."
Finally, suffering from pastrami overkill and wondering what would come next, I ventured forth to Wolfgang Puck's Spago at the end of my tour back in Los Angeles. What did Wolfgang serve me? An amuse gueule of pastrami foie gras with a rye crisp! When I asked Lee Hefter, the executive chef and creator of the dish, how he made it, he told me that he brines the foie gras with a salt solution and coats it with pastrami spices like pepper and coriander, before he hot smokes it to 105 degrees.
When I asked why, his reply was swift: "I'm a nice Jewish guy from New Jersey, who grew up eating pastrami."
Pastrami has come a long way.
Celebrate Langer's 60th
On Friday, June 15, Langer's will celebrate its 60th anniversary with proclamations and presentations by city and county government officials, beginning at 1:30 p.m. and continuing with a drawing for sweepstakes prizes; entry forms are available at the restaurant. The public is invited. For the celebration, Seventh Street will be closed all day in front of the restaurant.
Langer's is located at 704 S. Alvarado St., near MacArthur Park, and is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Joan Nathan is the author of award-winning cookbooks and the host of the acclaimed PBS series "Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan." Portions of this story originally appeared in Bon Appetit.
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