Wise Sons Deli in San Francisco’s Mission District doesn’t let a single ounce of their wood-smoked pastrami go unconsumed. It’s as if they were inspired by their grandmothers’ kitchen habits, which sounds like a pretty dang authentic deli to us. How authentic, you ask? The phone number listed on their website comes with the caveat: “You never call anymore! Get in touch with us just to say hello, or even to kvetch. We’re here for you.”
We too wanted to use every last scrap of the miraculous cured meat that stars in some of our very favorite sandwiches, so we spoke with co-founder Evan Bloom about the many roles of pastrami in the Wise Sons kitchen. But first, watch his craft. See that beautiful fat cap on top? We’ll get to the glories involved in that later.
Is pastrami as much of a meat institution in San Francisco as it is in New York?
Definitely not. It’s a known sandwich meat, but doesn’t really have the fame it has in New York or even Los Angeles because we just don’t have institutions like Katz’s in NYC or Langer’s in LA. We’re trying to change that sandwich by sandwich.
What was your first experience eating pastrami?
My first memory was at The Rascal House in Miami Beach, which is since gone. I was maybe six years old, and I asked the waitress for ketchup for my sandwich. Needless to say, that never happened again.
What’s one thing people might not know about pastrami?
Most pastrami (even some of the most famous ones, I won’t name names!) comes from one of a handful of factories that use liquid smoke. Our pastrami is still smoked with real hardwood.
How does food waste factor into how you run your kitchen? Is any part of the pastrami not put to use?
We try to use everything, not only so we don’t waste, but because food isn’t cheap, and we have to control our costs running the business. We’re always trying to find new ways to use our “trim” (a fancy restaurant word for potential waste).
Do you compost?
Of course! Composting is the law in San Francisco, but it’s a goal to have the compost be as empty as possible, because that’s how you know you’ve reused and made the most of your ingredients. For instance, I never want to see onion butts, carrot peels, herb stalks or celery leaves in there — that’s perfectly good product for chicken stock.
What’s the ratio of ground pastrami to beef in your burger patty? Is that something we should be doing at home?
70% beef, 30% pastrami. Grinding in pastrami (or even bacon, shhh I know it’s not kosher!) is an awesome way to give burgers, meatballs and meatloaf an extra oomph, and it’s a great way to empty out the fridge. You don’t even need to grind it; just chop it up finely and throw it into the burger mix.
What else should we all be cooking in rendered pastrami fat?
Anything you would use bacon fat or pork lard for! At home, I’ve cooked steak or pork chops with it in a cast iron skillet, and basted a roasting chicken with it. It’s great for a fried egg too. It gives sandwiches a richer taste and some extra flavor with little work.