Home Cookin’ 4: Ronnie Suburban and Steve Zaransky

By Alan Lake (Jazzfood)

Steve Zaransky, Alan Lake, and Ronnie Suburban

Happening upon LTH Forum was a game changer for me. After nearly two decades, I returned home to Chicago knowing the streets but not what was on them any longer. The city had changed quite a bit in my absence.

A mention of LTH in the Reader (probably by Mike Sula but I can’t remember) teased me with a cut-to-the-chase of like-minded people in all things culinary.  Every weekend for the first year I was back, my sister would show up at my apartment asking “Whattayagot? ” in an accent heard only around these parts. By that she meant, where would we be eating based on my newly gleaned knowledge from LTH discussions the preceding week?  We sampled Thai grocers and Pakistani BBQ, attended a few events, and in so doing met a lot of new people. People I never would have met left to my own devices. While I had old friends here that helped tip the scale to come back, now I have new friends too – many of which who’ve come via LTH.

In reading the forums, certain writing stood out. I found myself laughing and agreeing with some, and shaking my head and wondering with others. The first time I was able to put a face to a name was during the historic Fanny’s debacle of ’06. Having been weaned on Fanny’s, I went in with high expectations. I left feeling I’d experienced an abortion (a.k.a. the meal) without anesthetic. Misery loves company, though, and the company was excellent. That evening I met a couple of people who would become my friends. And then I met more. And more. So it’s safe to say that LTH had significant influence on me (as it has on many that are reading this).  This is but one reason many of us at LTH take this community so personally.

As if we own the damn thing.

But we don’t. Steve Zaransky, Ronnie Suburban and Dave Dickson do. So, I’d like to introduce you to two people (one I met that fateful evening, the other a short time later) that act as caretakers for LTHForum. Steve Zaransky and Ronnie Suburban. Since we’ve fressed so often together over the ensuing years, both in their homes and in the many restaurants found here on LTH, I thought they’d be naturals for this Home Cookin’ series.

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Home Cookin’ 4: A Conversation with Ronnie Suburban

By Alan Lake (Jazzfood)


Alan Lake: Give me some background into your food illness. What started you on your path?

Ronnie Suburban: My dad was a deli man. His first job, when he was 14 – you know when Jews were still on the South Side of Chicago – he was in high school and had a job working at a deli. He loved it! And before that, my grandfather was a kosher butcher. He had a shop on 77th and Jeffery. So it was in the family on that side. My dad wasn’t a particularly well-versed guy with food, but what he loved, he loved to share. I remember certain sandwiches he would make, or certain things he would cook for us…I mean, he had a limited repertoire but certain things obviously meant something more to him.

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Recipe: Cold-Smoked Salmon Cure

By Ronnie Suburban


lox2 fileted sides of wild salmon, skin-on (total 12-15 pounds net)
500 g. kosher salt
200 g. light brown sugar
400 g. granulated sugar
12 g. white pepper (freshly ground)
6 g. bay leaf (freshly ground)
4 g. mace (freshly ground)
1 oz. rum or vodka
Fresh dill to cover


1. Mix sugars and salt together. Using a coffee or spice grinder, grind the remaining seasonings into a fine powder and incorporate that powder into the sugar/salt mixture. In the bottom of a large, non-reactive container (glass or plastic is best), spread about 25 percent of the cure down to create an even layer.

2. Next, lay the fish down (skin side down) evenly on top of that. Then, sprinkle the rum or vodka evenly over the surface of the fish. Lay the sprigs of fresh dill over the fish evenly, covering its entire surface. After that, use all the remaining cure to cover the fish entirely, patting it gently to make sure no part of the surface of the fish is not covered. Some dill will poke through, which is no big deal.

3. Cover all the fish with plastic wrap, then place a cutting board or other flat surface on top of that to create a press. Place a couple of #10 cans (3-4 pounds of total weight) on top of the press.

4. Place the entire container in the refrigerator and let the fish cure for 24-72 hours. The thicker the fish, the longer it must cure. Small pieces usually take no more than 24 hours. Large pieces can take up to 72 hours. Check after 24 hours and then every 12 hours after that until the fish is cured though. It should still be supple and moist but not raw-feeling.

5. Once the cure is completed, rinse the fish off thoroughly with cold water and dry it off. Place the cured fish on a rack, so it can dry further from above and below, and refrigerate it for 24 hours to create a pellicle, which will help the fish take on the smoke.

6. Once the pellicle has developed, cold-smoke the fish indirectly with apple wood (or other wood of your choice). The smoke should not be above 100 degrees F. as it comes in contact with the fish. If the smoke gets hotter than that, it’ll cook the fish, instead of cold-smoking it. The fish must be kept cold during this process to prevent spoilage. This can be accomplished by smoking only during cold weather, or putting the fish on a rack above a tub of ice.

7. Fish can be smoked for any duration of time, depending on your preference for smokiness. I generally try for about six hours but even two will produce a good, smoky result.

Recipe: Pastrami

By Ronnie Suburban

This one’s based on a recipe from “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.


A 10-13 pound whole brisket, trimmed*

For the Cure:
1 ½ gallons cold water
½ gallon ice water
700 grams kosher salt
14 grams pink salt (this is the amount to use for up to 25 pounds of meat**)
2 T. pickling spice
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
½ cup honey
10 garlic cloves, crushed

Before smoking:
16 grams coriander seeds, lightly toasted
20 grams black peppercorns, lightly toasted


1. Completely dissolve the salts, sugar, honey and pickling spice in 1 ½ gallons of water. Do this over low heat if you have to, but these items will normally dissolve in cold water after some stirring (obviously, some elements of the pickling spice will not dissolve at all). Add the garlic. Stir until combined thoroughly. Add the ½ gallon of ice water to bring the temperature of the cure down. The cure must be cold (38° Fahrenheit or lower) in order for this to work properly and be safe.

zf2012.smokingmeats2. Fully submerge the brisket in the cure. If it floats, you can keep it submerged by placing a non-reactive plate on top of it. Depending on the thickness of the brisket, leave it in the cure for 7-10 days, so that the cure penetrates to the deepest part of the brisket. Or, you can inject the cure into the center of those thick portions of the brisket and reduce the cure time to 3-4 days.

IMPORTANT:  If you used heat to make the cure, refrigerate it until it reaches temperature before adding the brisket.

3. After the brisket has cured fully, rinse it off completely. Pat the brisket dry.  If you have time, place the cured brisket, uncovered – or wrapped in a single layer of cheesecloth – in refrigeration for 24 hours at (or around) 38° F. but do not freeze it. This extra step produces a pellicle, which allows the smoke to adhere to the brisket better. My experience is that it is not really necessary.

4. After the brisket is dry, lightly toast the black pepper and coriander seeds in a dry sauté pan. After they are toasted, grind them coarsely, mix them together thoroughly and rub the entire brisket with the mixture.

5. Hot-smoke the cured, rubbed brisket fat-side down at 200-250° F. for up to six hours over a wood of your choice:  apple, hickory or oak are good ones. If you like it smokier, smoke it long but do not let the internal temperature of the brisket rise above 150° F. If it hits 150° F., remove it from the smoker. The key here is that if the pastrami gets to 150° F too soon, it will not have a lot of smokiness. There really is no downside to smoking it longer (or at a lower temperature) because the final step is a braise, which will cook the pastrami fully if smoking did not get it to that point. Just make sure you do not exceed 150° F. during the smoking process or the exterior of the meat will become dry and desiccated. For restaurant applications, there may be other food-safety regulations that must be followed.

6. After the pastrami has received the desired amount of smoke or reached 150° F., it should be braised before serving. Braising will not only make it extremely tender but will also rid the meat of excess saltiness. I generally braise it for four hours at 275° F. Your mileage may vary.

7. After placing the pastrami in the braising vessel, I fill the vessel about halfway up the brisket with cold water. After about two hours of covered braising, I dump out 90 percent of the water, flip the brisket over, re-fill the vessel again to halfway up the brisket with fresh water, and continue to braise for another two hours. I find that it’s best to braise fat-side-down first and fat-side-up second. The pepper and coriander mix, if applied before smoking, will adhere to the brisket during braising. You’ll lose some of it but not enough to be a problem.

8. After the braise all you have to do is slice (against the grain) and serve.


*Pastrami has an important, defining rub on the outside, so how you trim the brisket before you prepare it is important. You need some fat on the outside to protect it during the smoking process. However, because the fat – which carries the black pepper and coriander – will ultimately be eaten, leaving too much on will result in a fairly unpalatable final product. If you trim the fat after the smoking, you’ll lose the spicy crust that is key to a good pastrami. So, trim the brisket well before curing. I generally try to separate the point from the flat, leaving it attached. I also try to leave about ¼” of fat on the exterior of the brisket.

**This recipe is scalable, depending on how much meat you use. However, the pink salt, which can be dangerous if used in excess, is not as adjustable. Use 1 teaspoon for up to 25 pounds of meat. If you use less than 10 pounds of meat, you might want to consider using even less pink salt.