Foods You Should Know: Montreal Smoked Meat

“You know if you had really, really been intent on entrapping me on my wedding night, you wicked woman, you would not have dabbed yourself with Joy, but in Essence of Smoked Meat.  A maddening aphrodisiac, made from spices available in Schwartz’s delicatessen. I’d call it Nectar of Judea and copyright the name.”-Mordecai Richler

Montreal is a great food city. It is a blend of parisian flair and a rustic new world sensibility, which makes it a lively and surprising culinary experience. The one thing that defines Montreal’s food identity is not classic french cuisine. It’s a sandwich that couldn’t be any less french.

Montreal Smoked Meat defines Canadian deli, in the same way as pastrami defines New York deli. Jewish Immigrants from all over eastern europe flooded Montreal at the turn of the century. They brought kosher butchering and charcuterie methods that had been refined and influenced in europe for hundreds of years.

Montreal Smoked Meat is a beef brisket which has been dry cured in salt, black peppercorns, coriander, and a variety of other spices. This curing process last ten days and then the meat is hot smoked and then steamed before serving. * There are usually four different cuts of meat. Lean, medium, medium-fat and fat. They all come from the same cut of meat but from different locations in the brisket.

The montreal smoked meat sandwich is a simple but subtle art**. It may look like deli anarchy, but there is a lot that goes into making a great sandwich. First the bread, it needs to be rye and it needs to be seedless. Second the meat, hand cut across the grain usually about a centimetre thick. I like a grainy mustard with the sandwich as it adds some textural elements to the ultra tender meat. The bread can be pressed and toasted a bit, but if the bread is fresh I don’t see the point. The sides are usually a kosher dill pickle, some coleslaw with a simple vinaigrette and some chips for a crunch. A perfect lunch.

Now that you know what goes into a smoked meat sandwich I am going to blow your mind. At a breakfast joint in Guelph, someone with a much higher IQ than myself figure out that if you take montreal smoked meat, throw it on a griddle and serve it as a breakfast side instead of bacon or ham, people will come. Angel’s Diner changed my outlook on smoked meat.

You mean you can use deli meat in something other than a sandwich? Yes you can. I have had Smoked meat poutine, wonderful! I’ve made smoked meat omelettes, smoked meat fritatas, and my personal favourite. Beef Rouladen stuffed with smoked meat, swiss cheese, mustard and sauerkraut.***

So now that you have got the lay of the deli meat land. Go find yourself a deli and enjoy.

*What is funny to me is that of the many smoked briskets i’ve made/eaten Montreal Smoked Meat is not really all that smokey. I know that the name refers to the process more than the flavour but to those who’ve  never had real smoked brisket, it’s kind of a surprise. Also pastrami(New York’s answer to smoked meat) has an ungodly amount of sugar used in it’s curing process, smoked meat has almost none.

**As I will say every few weeks on this blog. A dish that is simple does not mean easy. Simple means that there is nowhere for a screwup to go hide. If the meat is cut too thin you make a mess, if there is too much mustard you kill the flavours of the meat. If the bread is not fresh you might as well pack it in and open a pharmacy.

***It’s a play on a ruben sandwich, maybe one day, if you ask real nice, I will publish the recipe.