The Pastrami sandwich as we know it today comes from pastrami on rye—a classic sandwich from the bustling streets of 20th-century New York. Pastrami on rye continued to be developed throughout New York—and particularly within American Jewish communities—and has since become a popular menu item for many enthusiasts of kosher meat and sandwiches lovers alike.

Making the sandwich on your weekly menu is far more involved than placing meat on bread. We’ll be going over a detailed recipe for a killer pastrami sandwich, talking a little bit about variations on pastrami itself, and hopefully providing your guests with a great meal.

Couple Eating a Pastrami sandwich on a Restaurant
Image: CC by 3.0, Erika39, via Wikipedia Commons

How to Make the Best Pastrami Sandwich at Home

Unsliced Pastrami aus Tafelspitz for Sandwich
Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Xisler, via Wikipedia Commons

What You Need to Make a Pastrami Sandwich

  • Rye bread
  • Pastrami
  • Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

How to Make the Perfect Pastrami Sandwich

Since there are tons of ways to build upon the simplistic nature of a pastrami sandwich, we’ll be going over the basics and touch upon a few variations you can try out a little later on.

Chef doing pastrami sandwich preparation
Image: CC by A-SA 2.0, star5112, via Flickr

1. Side Dishes for Your Pastrami Sandwich

While it might seem counterintuitive, to start our pastrami on rye, we’re going to need to get the onions going first.

After slicing up enough farmer’s market onions to top off the number of sandwiches you need, prepare a pan by dropping in a good amount of butter and melting over medium heat. Once we’ve got a heated pan and cooked butter, drop in your onions and begin the caramelization process.

Caramelization can take several minutes, so we’re going to come back to these once they’ve turned a nice golden brown.

While we’re waiting for those to cook, it is time to get back to the rest of our ingredients.

Using a cutting board, slice up your tomatoes—leaving enough thickness to give a nice height and flavor to the finished sandwich. If you need to prepare your lettuce, this is also the best time to get on that.

Don’t forget to go back over and stir the onions on occasion to prevent uneven cooking.

2. The Bread

Sliced Pastrami sandwich rye bread
Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, anaterate, via Pixabay

Next, we’ll need to work on our bread. For the sake of tradition, consider using rye bread or a similar type—but whatever you choose, make sure you use a thin (but not too thin) slice to bring out the other flavors in the sandwich. Other options to consider include sourdough and strong whole wheat bread.

We’re going to want to get these toasted, which can be done in two ways—either by utilizing your oven, or preferably coating with butter and tossing on the grill. If either option isn’t possible for your kitchen, wait until after your onions have caramelized and use the empty pan to get started on toasting.

Be sure to go easy on the butter—we’re going for toasted bread, not Texas Toast or garlic bread.

3. The Meat

It is time to get back to the pastrami, but how you’ve purchased the meat plays a major factor in how you serve your sandwich. Purchased sliced pastrami from your local deli means there is no need to cook the meat. Simply lay on the bottom slice atop your lettuce and tomato, slide the caramelized onions on top, and you’re good to go.

Bringing out the smokey flavor of the pastrami requires more steps to go over.

Adding some melted goat cheese on top and stacking your pastrami slices in the oven comes next.  Top it up with cheese, and blast it until melted. This will give you a warmer and gooey taste and works best for those who prefer a hotter sandwich.

Getting classy with your sandwich suggests cooking your pastrami much like your onions. Using a pan coated in olive oil add, in about half of the pastrami you’re planning to use and cook for about a half-minute per side.

Do the same for the other half and keep cooking until we get a similar caramelized appearance as we did on our onions. Once you’re done, add the pastrami to the base we’ve already made and salt and pepper to taste.

4. The Pastrami Sandwich

Pastrami on rye bread makes a good sandwich
Image: CC by A 2.0, jeffreyw, via Wikipedia Commons

Choosing to cook your pastrami, try finishing it off by giving the entire assembled sandwich time to toast on the pan. If you need to, use your spatula to press down on the bread to keep a nice, even coat. Let the sandwich press do the rest for you.

Once you’re done, serve immediately or slice in half. For all the hard work you’ve put into this sandwich, it’s understandable to want to impress guests with a killer cross-section.

For an extra splash of tradition, offer deli mustard and make sure your pastrami is stacked too high for comfort.

With this dish, there’s no such thing as too much meat.

  • Melt butter in a pan and begin caramelizing your onions.
  • Prepare thick slices of tomato and thin slices of toasted bread.
  • Cook (or neglect to cook) your pastrami and assemble immediately.
  • Toast generously on both sides, cut in half, and enjoy!.

Variations and Meal Ideas for Pastrami Sandwich

A sandwich as simple as pastrami on rye is practically begging for innovation—and we’ve got several options available to you to try and breathe new life into this old classic. We’ll be going over these options, other dishes you can try to serve alongside the pastrami and rye, and a brief look into the importance of the meat itself.

Using The Right Pastrami

Preparing the Right Pastrami for the Sandwich
Image: CC by A 2.0, Arnold Gatilao, via Wikipedia Commons

Choosing whether or not to use pre-sliced pastrami or cooking the pastrami yourself has a lot to do with the history of the meat and the quality that you’ve purchased.

Pastrami is usually well seasoned and spiced, brined, smoked, and steamed. The Jewish roots mean that a traditional pastrami sandwich comes from the kosher beef plate. The same goes for the exhaustive nature of making pastrami. Although, in the modern-day, one opts to find easier pastrami preparation from beef brisket. 

Going for a traditional pastrami sandwich implies being willing to go the extra mile.  Choosing the pastrami made from the beef plate provides a proven base from which to cook the meat yourself. However, if you want to keep things simple and easy to make, stick with pre-sliced pastrami. Once accented correctly with the right ingredients results in a great sandwich for all.

It all depends on what you’re going for, the kind of tastes you want to bring out, and your price range.

Shaking Things Up

Preparing Tomatoes, Cheese, and Rye Loaf for Pastrami Sandwich
Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, (Unidentified Author), via Max Pixel

Side items remain an important accent for your pastrami sandwich. Remember that the limit appears not among the bare bones of a pastrami on rye.

Like other sandwiches commonly served at delis, experimenting with various cheeses to meet certain tastes makes a better meal. Throwing a fried egg to add a little more protein and thickness surely gives a more irresistible taste. Avocado stands as a popular choice in modern delis. This adds more green in balancing out all that red meat.

If you’re looking to shake things up, try adding red or green peppers to bring out the natural flavors of pastrami. Deli-style neutral pasta like macaroni incorporates the full meal into a small sandwich. Whatever you choose to do, try to keep your big changes to one solid deviation. A good pastrami sandwich denotes the lack of distraction. Trying too hard usually brings out diminishing returns.

Soups, Salads, and Side items

Pastrami sandwich with Soups, Salads, and Side items
Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, Jonathunder, via Wikipedia Commons

As a simple-but-filling sandwich, the pastrami on rye can be served in multiple portions to constitute a full meal.  Pairing with other items keeps things interesting. Here are a few ways you can tie together a full meal with the pastrami on rye, without breaking the bank:

Most summer salads pair great with pastrami! Try adding a Cobb or Mediterranean salad that gives you a bit more garden with this meat-heavy item. Tomato-based soups also work well with pastrami. Moreover, hungry guests satisfied with the dipping sauce guarantees more cravings for the meal.

Other side items include classic options like chips or onion rings. But anyone looking to serve a pastrami sandwich that includes avocado might prefer lighter sides like coleslaw.

If you want to keep with the history of the sandwich, go with a kosher pickle wedge. It sounds relatively inexpensive yet works great with the sandwich. It shows a little bit of understanding of where your meal came from.

How Do You Like to Have Your Pastrami Sandwich?

The pastrami sandwich holds a great option for a simple lunch option or a quick and tasty dinner item. Traditionally cooked over a grill or purchased pre-made makes a good choice! Mastering the art of such a simple sandwich gives you another set of gourmet skills. Choosing to cook your own works out as more beneficial and rewarding than it initially appears.

Be sure to try out the pastrami sandwich with Mediterranean meals, in conjunction with other finger foods, or for a lazy night around the house.  

Family Eating Pastrami sandwich with Fries & Side Items
Image: CC by Jeremy Keith, PACAF, via Flickr

Featured Image: CC by 3.0, Erika39, via Wikipedia Commons.


1 Comment

  1. I absolutely love rueben sandwiches. Pastrami sandwiches are quick and easy way to ease the crave for the rueben. Mine is really easy and quick. Lightly toast seeded Jewish rye bread and and sauce to both. This can be anything from mustard to kicked up russian dressing. Gently warm the pastrami with cheese on top, just until the cheese stars to melt. Put it together and you are done. Of course, when I have time, I will ad sauerkraut etc,…but usually for a quick fake Reuben….it is just cheese and mustard.

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