Montreal-style smoked meat, Montreal smoked meat or simply smoked meat in Montreal (French: smoked meat; sometimes 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 savory flavourings, such as coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds, and significantly less sugar than New York pastrami. The recipe for Montreal steak seasoning is based on the seasoning mixture for Montreal smoked meat.
Montreal smoked meat is made with variable-fat brisket, whereas pastrami is more commonly made with the fat-marbled navel/plate cut. Montreal smoked meat is typically served in the form of a light-rye bread sandwich accompanied 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 are 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:
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. 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 or served over spaghetti with bolognese sauce or even pizza.
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:
Along with bagels, smoked meat has been popular in Montreal since the 19th century and it has taken such strong root in the city that both Montrealers and non-Montrealers alike 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 sardonically 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".
Internationally, on the occasion of Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Quebec expatriates and lovers of Quebec cuisine sometimes enjoy Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, along with steamed hot dogs (referred to by the locals as "steamies"), classic poutine, Quebec microbrewery beer, and artisanal Quebec chocolate as cultural markers.
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.
Montreal smoked meat is offered in many diners and fast food restaurant chains throughout Montreal, Quebec, and Canada. Most restaurant chains and delis deals with meat processing plants for the preparation of beef briskets. The largest processing plant specializing in smoked meat located on the island of Montreal is Levitts Foods in LaSalle. Smoked meat has become popularized far beyond its Jewish origins into the general population of Quebec, to the point that smoked meat has been integrated into popular Quebec dishes such as poutine. It is also found in outposts such as Shanghai, Toronto, New York, and Chicago.