Quebec is definitely home to a few endemic foods and dishes. Topping the list is bagels, poutine, tourtières, whippet cookies, some kickass cheeses, and of course Montreal smoked meat.
The classic Montreal smoked meat sandwich has been around ever since the 19th century. It is on top of most tourist must-eat items and Montrealers have the occasional intense craving.
Have you tasted a Montreal smoked meat sandwich? Is it new to you? Today I will tell you all about this delicious deli meat that you can only find in Montreal.
How is Montreal Smoked meat made?
Montreal smoked meat (which we just call smoked meat) is a beef brisket that has been cured with salt and spices for about 10 days, then smoked, and finished off with a steam session. Montreal smoked meat is always kept warm with steam and it is always sliced by hand with a big meat knife when an order comes in. The reason is because the meat is so tender a machine cut could break the block of meat.
Now let’s build our Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Take half a slice of seedless rye bread and pile on about 2 inches of fresh cut meat. Take your other half slice of bread and slather it with yellow mustard and top off the meat. Get the plate and you will also get coleslaw, fries and a pickle.
Where does Montreal smoked meat come from?
There are many stories as to it’s real origins but there is no definite answer. The one element everyone agrees upon is that the kosher recipe arrived with Eastern European Jewish immigrants, like the bagel, some time in the 19th century. But today it is synonymous with Quebec culture. The most famous establishments are to be found in deli restaurants downtown Montreal. Some have been around since the 1920s.
But isn’t Montreal smoked meat just like Pastrami?
Now Montreal smoked meat vs New York Pastrami is a controversial subject, just like who makes the real bagel. Since I am a Montrealer I have to say hands down Montreal wins in both cases (how could I not say that). But what makes them different? Montreal smoked meat is made with a Canadian brisket cut which has variable fat, whereas Pastrami is made with an American marbled navel/plate cut.
Which spices are used to cure the meat? The seasoning is made up of cracked peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds, and very little sugar (vs the American cousin which has a lot more sugar rubbed in).
And the final difference: in Montreal we can specify the amount of fat in the smoked meat. This takes us back to the various cuts of meats. The Canadian brisket is made up of American brisket and navel. So the fat content can vary greatly. When you order you can ask for old fashioned, fatty, medium, or lean meat. The lean cut has the least amount of fat but is drier. The medium cut has a nice balance. The fat is obviously heavily marbled. And finally the Old-Fashioned is often cut a bit thicker with a mix of medium and fat smoked meat.
I really hope I have wet your appetite and that you cannot wait to try Montreal smoked meat the next time you are in town. And keep room for a slice of New York style cheesecake. I know, more controversy!
Disclosure: this post was sponsored by Dunn’s Famous.