Smoking of meat and fish has been practiced for ages. Indigenous cultures around the world may have used smoke during the drying of fish to drive away the flies. They soon found that the absorbed smoke acted as a preservative. Perhaps the most famous "smokers of meat" were the Caribbean natives who smoked it on a rack over a smoky fire, a setup they called "barbacoa" (one possible etymological origin of barbecue).
Famous among early smokers of meat are the Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Europe, and is often associated with other foods popularized by Jewish communities, such as bagels. In The United States it is referred to as pastrami which is derived from the Yiddish: (pronounced pastrmeh). However, lovers of pastrami vociferously argue that the consistency, flavoring, seasoning and color of pastrami differs significantly from that of smoked meat.
Pastrami comes in two flavors-"old fashioned" which is a process where the meat is naturally aged or cured and "regular" a process whereby additives are used to age the meat. Generally, those who have tested traditional "New York Deli" pastrami agree that it is similar, but not identical, to pastrami Smoked Meat. Both the dish and the word were brought to North America with the wave of Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century; it is similar to roast brisket, a signature dish of the local Jewish cuisine of these regions. Smoked meat, also known as salt beef in London, is cured, spiced, and flavoured in ways similar to corned beef. Difference in meat cut and spicing mean that smoked meat's taste is different from either of these, and even varies among recipes.
American smoked meats, also known as Barbecue or BBQ were developed to use the "cheaper" cuts of meats, as they were typically tough and deemed "undesirable". The "low and slow" cooking methods made these cuts a delicacy sought after today. Usually done in a "low temp" environment (200 to 300F) (93 to 149C) they take a significant amount of time to prepare. The "secret" is the breaking down of the connective tissues and collagens within the meat, and the rendering out of the fat. A sub-category is the plethora of sauces and "mops" that are used to flavor and further tenderize the meats. BBQ has become a culinary art form, and hundreds of competitions are held yearly.
Along with bagels, smoked meat has been popular in Montreal since the nineteenth century, and has taken such strong root in that city that many Montrealers, and even many non-Montrealers, identify it as emblematic of the city's cuisine. 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. 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.
The primary producer of Montreal smoked meat is Lesters Foods, which had its origins as a Jewish delicatessen in 1931 on the historic St. Laurent boulevard, better known as "the Main", dividing Montreal into east and west. Lesters Foods supplies Montreal smoked meat to many restaurants, delis and grocery stores throughout Canada. Other famous shops include Schwartz's, Reuben's, Dunn's, Jay C's Express, Jarry Smoked Meat, Lester's, Abie's Smoked Meat, Chenoy's, Pete's Smoked Meat, the Main Deli, the Snowdon Deli, and Stanley Diner (formerly Ben's Deli) which was a Montreal institution for 98 years until its closure in late 2006.
Beyond the delis listed here, smoked meat, (French: "sandwich la viande fume" or "smoked-meat"), is offered in many Montreal diners and fast food chains. Smoked meat has become popularized beyond its Jewish origins into the general population of Quebec, where smoked meat has been integrated into popular dishes, such as, for example, "smoked meat poutine" or "Qubcois-style pizza."
Smoked meat can similarly be found across Canada (see Shopsy's of Toronto), although proponents of Montreal's smoked meat claim that it cannot be obtained in its tastiest, or most authentic form, outside of Montreal. Several restaurateurs have offered to franchise Schwartz's in cities across North America. Its owners, however, have always refused; but do deliver by mail-order, though not at present outside of Canada.
Montreal smoked meat is always sliced by hand in order to maintain its temperature. Since it is so popular, whole briskets are kept steaming and sliced up on demand. Non-specialized restaurants outside of Montreal do not have the volume of smoked meat customers to justify this practice, and usually only have cold pre-sliced meat on hand, and re-heated when a customer orders one sandwich.That negatively affects the taste and texture of the meat.
New York-style pastrami
Categories: Jewish cuisine | Louisiana cuisine | Cold cut | Meat | Sandwiches | Montreal cuisine | Quebec cuisine | SmokeHidden categories: Articles lacking sources from January 2008 | All articles lacking sources | Articles containing Yiddish language text | All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements from June 2007 | Articles with unsourced statements from February 2010
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