La Paloma sandwich: pastrami and basil pickles

La Paloma sandwich: pastrami and basil pickles

Hungry For That
Lauren Bamford

Melbourne is geographically divided by the Yarra River, which gives a north and south to the city. I grew up in Frankston, which was one hour south of Melbourne and I never paid the divide any mind until I started to catch some pro-northside sentiments around the end of the ’90s. As time went on, I moved closer to the city but always stayed southside. Not sure why – I would sometimes hear myself saying stupid things like, ‘I just need to be near the beach,’ (even though I never went there when I was growing up), and my favourite, ‘There are just more trees in the south.’ The truth was the north was unknown to me and I was a bit scared.

A few friends had moved to Brunswick, an eclectic northside suburb with a strong Middle Eastern vibe. I visited a couple of times and began to love the kebab delights of the area, but I still preferred the leafy tree-lined streets of the southside suburbs. The problem was, southside rentals near the city were super expensive. Beci and I needed to move house and she suggested we check out a place in West Brunswick. I begrudgingly went along. I liked it but I had reservations.

One day, I went to Brunswick by myself and went for a little walk to see what I could find. I stumbled upon a tiny café just off Sydney Road, the main street in Brunswick, named La Paloma. There was no apparent menu – just a coffee machine, a turntable and soccer memorabilia. I asked the owner, who was called Todd, what he had for lunch. He replied, ‘We make one roll here. Would you like that?’ I was kinda shocked and excited at the same time. I said, ‘Yes I would.’ The La Paloma roll came with lettuce, mayo, avo, tomato, cucumber, Turkish pastirma (kinda like pastrami) and basil. I started eating it. I had to pause for a brief second while I was struck by an epiphany. This roll was everything I had ever wanted – delicious, simple, fresh, low-key and served by a very honest person. This roll represented Brunswick, or everything that I wanted from an area I could call home. After that moment, I pulled out all the stops to make sure we moved to Brunswick. We’ve lived there ever since.

Pastirma is more like a spicy bresaola than traditional pastrami. I really love the saltiness of the beef combined with the cucumber and the basil. Here is my ode to the La Paloma roll. You’ll need to begin preparing the pastrami five to six days before you want to eat this sandwich. You’ll also need a barbecue with a lid to trap the smoke and a thermometer so you can watch the temperature when smoking the brisket.


Quantity Ingredient
1 loaf rye bread

Quick basil pickles

Quantity Ingredient
10 peppercorns
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 basil stalks
250ml white vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
600g pickling cucumbers or lebanese cucumbers

Pastrami (see recipe notes)

Quantity Ingredient
1 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon pink curing salt, (optional)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
95g brown sugar
1 tablespoon mustard powder
80g black peppercorns
1 x 2kg brisket with deckle left on
60g coriander seeds
180g smoking woodchips, soaked for 1 hour


  1. To make the quick basil pickles, combine all of the ingredients, except the cucumbers, with 250 ml water in a large, sterilised, sealable jar. Stir until the salt has dissolved then add the cucumbers and firmly seal the jar. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 days for best results (see recipe notes).
  2. To make the pastrami, combine the kosher salt, pink curing salt, if using, garlic powder, brown sugar, mustard powder and 1 tablespoon of the black peppercorns with 4 litres water in a large stockpot. Bring to the boil over a high heat. Once the salt and sugar have dissolved, remove the pot from the heat and let the liquid cool completely. Put the brisket in a large, sealable container then pour over the cooled brine, making sure the brisket is completely submerged. Use a plate to weigh it down if necessary. Seal the container and refrigerate for 4–6 days to let the brine penetrate (see recipe notes).
  3. Soak the brisket in cold water for at least 10–20 minutes, changing the water every 5 minutes to remove any excess salt. Grind the remaining peppercorns and coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle and apply liberally all over the brisket.
  4. To smoke the brisket, preheat a barbecue for direct cooking over a low heat (see recipe notes).
  5. Once the barbecue temperature has stabilised to 100–110°C, put the brisket in. Put the woodchips in a disposable aluminium roasting tin on the grill plate of the barbecue. Smoke the brisket, with the lid closed, for about 2 hours, making sure the temperature stays around 110–120°C. Continue cooking after the smoke has cleared for another 4 hours, or until the internal temperature of the brisket is 85°C.
  6. Transfer the brisket to a steamer over a saucepan of boiling water. Steam the brisket, covered, for 1½–2 hours. (If you are feeding a big crew, then go ahead and steam the whole brisket. If you only want some for a sandwich, then portion off what you need and put the rest in the fridge – 500 g of brisket will need to be steamed for an hour.)
  7. Remove the brisket from the steamer and slice it against the grain. Serve the brisket in the bread rolls with some sliced basil pickles.


  • Pastrami: If you don’t have the time or the space to brine a brisket, you can have your butcher prepare a brisket in the same way they would a corned beef. Then you can go straight to the smoking stage.

    Pickles: The left-over quick basil pickles will keep in the fridge for 5–6 days.

    Brining: You can use a meat injector, if you have one, to insert the brine directly into the brisket and speed up the brining process. If you do this, the brisket will be ready for smoking in 2 days.

    Smoking: You will need a barbecue with a lid to trap the smoke and a thermometer to check the temperature.
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