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Street Food Friday: Montreal-Style Smoked-Meat Sandwiches

April 4, 2014 at 11:13 AM | by | ()

In a new weekly Friday column, we'll explore street food and other culinary specialties from around the world. Last week, it was Detroit-style pizza. This week, we head to Montreal to see what's cooking.

Other than that Montreal has been making delicious smoked-meat sandwiches since the early 1900s, the history of the style's emergence is hazy. In all the speculation that exists, the general consensus is that it has Jewish origins and roots, brought to Canada rather than created within the country. No matter. It arrived, and it is now the most distinguished sandwich in Quebec's largest city.

The sandwich is about as simple as it gets: smoked meat and mustard on rye bread. But it's the way the meat is made that differentiates it. The brisket cuts, which come from the chest of the cow, are cured with peppercorns, coriander, and other various spices, placed in a brine for over a week, and smoked. It's a lot like pastrami thus far, but the difference is that Montreal-style is steamed after it is smoked. The steaming process allows the brisket to further tenderize and the fat to become even more gelatinous, resulting in a delicate, melting meat.

The sandwich is served in "full fat," "half fat," or "lean." The full-fat option will contain large globs of the jelly-like fat, and almost all of it is cut off in the lean version. We went with half fat, which you can see in the photo above. Lean is definitely the healthiest choice, but we recommend going with at least half fat to get the most flavor. If you're trying to cut calories, go have a salad.

The most well-known place in Montreal is Schwartz's Deli. Now partly owned by Celine Dion, you'll find both locals and tourists at this casual, no frills deli, and you can expect to pay about $8 for a smoked-meat sandwich. The line can get pretty long during lunch and dinner hours, so if you are short on time, head across the street to the Main Deli Steak House as an alternative.

[Photos: Will McGough/Globe and Mail]

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