Sunday, April 21, 2013

The mystique of Montreal-style smoked meat

[Image: 640px-Schwartz_smoked_meat_montreal.JPG]

The mystique of Montreal-style smoked meat

By JP Hanson
The Daily Magi
December 2, 2036

Montreal-style smoked meat, Montreal smoked meat or simply smoked meat in Montreal (French: du smoked meat, viande fumée), is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion.

Although the preparation methods may be similar, Montreal smoked meat is cured in seasoning with more cracked peppercorns and aromatic spices, such as coriander, and significantly less sugar than New York pastrami. As well, Montreal smoked meat is always made with brisket while pastrami is more commonly made with the navel/plate cut. The meat is typically served in the form of a rye bread sandwich slathered with yellow mustard. While some Montreal smoked meat is brine-cured like corned beef, with spices applied later, many smoked meat establishments prefer dry-curing directly with salt and spices.

The origins of Montreal smoked meat is uncertain and likely unresolvable. However, many have laid claims to the creation or introduction of smoked meat into Montreal. Regardless, all of these stories indicate the creators are of the Jewish Diaspora from Romania or Eastern Europe:

Some point to Ben Kravitz, who founded Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant in 1910, as the introducer of Montreal smoked meat. According to the Kravitz family, he used a brisket-curing method he recalled being practised by Lithuanian farmers. His first smoked meat sandwiches were made and sold from his wife's fruit and candy store.
According to Eiran Harris, a Montreal historian, Herman Rees Roth from New York may have created the first smoked meat sandwich in 1908, selling them from his deli, the British American Delicatessen Store.
In another claim by Bill Brownstein, the smoked meat was brought over in 1902 by Itzak Rudman, who was an accomplished salami and smoked meat maker selling his wares on de Bullion Street (formerly Cadieux Street).
In yet another possibility, a butcher by the name of Aaron Sanft who arrived from Iași, Romania in 1884 founded Montreal's first kosher butchershop and likely made smoked meat in the Romanian style similar to pastırma.

Warm Montreal smoked meat is always sliced by hand to maintain its form, since doing so with a meat slicer would cause the tender meat to disintegrate. Whole briskets are kept steaming and sliced up on demand when ordered in the restaurant to maintain its temperature. Unspecialized restaurants outside Montreal typically do not have the volume of smoked meat customers to justify this practice, and usually only have cold presliced meat on hand, reheated when a customer orders one sandwich. Good delis in Canada pride themselves in serving traditional smoked meat - cured, smoked and sliced by hand. The meat should be around 3 mm thick, cut slightly on a bias, and across the grain of the brisket.

Even when hand-cut, Montreal smoked meat produces a lot of broken bits when sliced. These pieces are gathered together and commonly served with French fries, cheese curds, and gravy as smoked meat poutine.

Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches are built with seedless rye bread and piled with hand-sliced smoked meat about 2 inches high with yellow prepared mustard. The customer can specify the amount of fat in the smoked meat:

"Lean": The lean and less flavourful end. Relatively healthful but dry.
"Medium" and "medium fat": The most popular cuts from the middle of the brisket. Occasionally, a sliced mix of lean and fat meats. Preferred by the renowned Canadian writer Mordecai Richler.
"Old-Fashioned": Basically the cut which is in between Medium and Fatty and often cut a bit thicker.
"Fat": From the fat end of the brisket. Fires the fat taste receptors, but may be an acquired taste.
"Speck": Consists solely of the spiced subcutaneous fat from the whole brisket without meat.

Along with bagels, smoked meat has been popular in Montreal since the 19th century, and has taken such strong root in that city, many Montrealers, and even many non-Montrealers, identify it as emblematic of the city's cuisine. Schwartz's, one of the most popular Montreal delis, is considered a melting pot for Montreal where all cultures converge and people of disparate classes share tables when eating. Current and former residents and tourists make a point of visiting Montreal's best-known smoked meat establishments, even taking whole briskets away as take-out. So loved is smoked meat by native Montrealers that renowned Montreal writer Mordecai Richler once jokingly described its flavour from Schwartz's in his novel Barney's Version, as a "maddening aphrodisiac" to be bottled and copyrighted as "Nectar of Judea".

Despite the food's origins in, and association with, Montreal's Jewish community, and contrary to what is sometimes asserted, these delis are not certified as kosher.

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