We're Seeing It Everywhere: Pastrami Everything

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Photo credit: Flickr/Artizone

Behind the cool glass that encases the fish counter at Shelsky’s in New York City, there’s something strange lurking amidst the belly lox and the Eastern Gaspe nova: pastrami salmon.

Pastrami salmon is exactly what it sounds like—salmon cured with the same spices used to make traditional beef pastrami, including peppercorns, onion, garlic, cloves, and tons of salt. It’s a curious meeting of two distinct Jewish food traditions: “appetizing,” which includes cured and smoked fish, and “deli,” which encompasses meaty dishes such as pastrami and corned beef. 

Shelsky’s has sold pastrami salmon since the store’s opening three years ago, but owner Peter Shelsky told us that the stuff’s popularity skyrocketed in 2013. Since then, Shelsky’s sells up to 60 pounds of pastrami salmon a week, double the amount sold in 2012.

The phenomenon at Shelsky’s is hardly isolated. The site Foodspotting counts more than a dozen pastrami salmon sightings, among them a snack of pretzel sticks wrapped in pastrami salmon at The David Burke Kitchen in New York City and a starter of pastrami salmon, asparagus, and mâche lettuce dressed in chive crème fraîche dressing at Anchor & Hope in San Francisco.

Even some historic appetizing outfits are cashing in on the trend. Both Russ & Daughters, a New York City establishment in business since 1914, and the 2nd Avenue Deli, around since 1954, feature pastrami salmon on their menus.

But salmon isn’t the only protein getting the pastrami treatment. The Restaurant at Wente in Livermore, California, serves up a delicate starter of rye crisps topped with thinly-sliced lamb pastrami and pickled onion. Across the country in Charleston, South Carolina, the Tattooed Moose cooks up a special of duck pastrami, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, and garlic aioli on rye. And in Washington, D.C, Red Apron Butchery serves a near-blasphemous sammie called the "Porkstrami," a baguette stuffed with pastrami-cured pork, bacon, mustard aioli, and sauerkraut drizzled with pork jus.

Regardless of their mode of conveyance, pastrami spices are thefoundation of good comfort food, Peter Shelsky told us. “It speaks to New York Jewish immigrant culture, and it’s great that [interest in it is] coming back. Pastrami is a huge part of it.” He credits the opening of several modern Jewish restaurants in recent years, including Kutsher’s and Mile End in New York City; DGS Delicatessen in Washington, D.C.; Wise Sons in San Francisco; Saul’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley; and online shop Gefilteria with jumpstarting a newfound interest in Jewish cuisine.

Pastrami’s roots may be in traditional Jewish culture, but Shelsky doesn’t think it has to stay there. “I mean, I have a tattoo of a pig on my arm,” he copped. Enough said.