Recently in Society Category

Montreal Smoked Meat (MSM) is a bit of a religion in Canada, particular for those who live in or around Montreal, Quebec. During my recent time off, I've been learning to cook with an outdoor smoker, and one of my projects was to try to recreate some quality MSM like the best Jewish delis in montreal such as Schwartz's are known for, or perhaps even a Pastrami of NYC Katz's Deli quality (a religion onto itself).

My Recipe (as of April 3, 2012)

I didn't invent this recipe, but amalgamated it from several sources (discussed below).


  1. A kitchen scale. I use one of the smaller, flat digital ones that my girlfriend bought at our local gourmet coffee shop. It measures up to 5kg and has a tare (zeroing) function to remove the weight of containers from the tally. I don't recommend using volume measurements when curing meat, especially with the variability of salt volume available out there.
  2. A large sharp knife and fork. For cutting and serving the meat.
  3. Ziplock Big Bags XXL. These are mammoth bags, nearly 2 x 3 feet, food safe, and large enough to seal in a full 15 pound packer brisket during its dry cure. They can be found at Canadian Tire stores in Canada, or Wal-Mart in the US. If you are using smaller cuts of meat, you can downward adjust your Ziploc size accordingly. If you have a big enough tupperware container, that's also usable.
  4. A steamer or sous vide immersion circulator. This could be a stovetop steamer, rice steamer, roasting pan with a rack for the oven, or a large bamboo steamer. This is for finishing the meat, usually 3 hours. Note the sous vide approach I will describe below, based on the method in Modernist Cuisine. It requires a suitable bag + sealer that holds a 1:1 ratio of water to meat (thus is only appropriate for smaller cuts) and will require up to 72 hours.
  5. An outdoor smoker (optional). I use the 18.5" Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which in my opinion the best bang for the buck in terms versatility for a charcoal-fired smoker. It also has a great online community behind it, dating back to 1997. Bradley Smoker makes a great electric smoker which is less versatile but dead simple to use. Note this is optional because there is some debate as to whether some establishments actually smoke their meat rather than just roast it. Smokers lead to better flavour, but using the oven will do in a pinch.
  6. A digital probe thermometer (optional) For inserting into the meat - it's the reliable way to check doneness reliably. Every cut of meat is different and may takes way longer or way shorter to get to the desired temperature. Some ovens run hot, some smokers run hot. In my case, one brisket took only 3 hours to get to 165 F, another took 5.5 hours. Overcooking mainly means you may have stringier meat at the end.
  7. A moderately cold refrigerator with room or a cold room. You don't want the meat to rot, you want it to cure, so you don't want to to be super cold. 38-40F or 3C-4.4C. Try not to go colder than 37F/2.5C.

Ingredient Summary
These are hypothetical quantities based on ratios from the initial cut of meat. I'm using the Modernist Cuisine format due to its ease of reading once you know the recipe; details on these ingredients below.

For the Dry Cure

5 kg [11 lb]Beef Brisket, with fat cap100%
0.2 kg [7.04 oz]Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt4%
Note: Dry cure salt guideline is 1 lb per 25 lb of meat
0.0125 kg [0.44 oz]Curing (pink) salt0.25%
Note: Assuming pink salt is 6.25% nitrate - the guideline is 1 oz per 25 lb of meat
0.1 kg [3.52 oz]White Sugar2%
Note: Adjust sugar to taste -- down to 0.6%, up to 2.7%; MSM usually has less sugar than pastrami
0.03 kg [1.18 oz]Ground Black Peppercorns0.67%
0.03 kg [1.18 oz]Ground Coriander Seeds0.67%
0.025 kg [0.88 oz]Mustard Seeds0.5%
0.01 kg [0.35 oz]Garlic powder0.2%
0.01 kg [0.35 oz]Ground Cinnamon0.2%
0.01 kg [0.35 oz]Fennel Seed0.2%
0.005 kg [0.18 oz]Ground Cloves0.1%
0.0025 kg [0.09 oz]Chile Pepper Flakes0.05%
0.0025 kg [0.09 oz]Ground Bay Leaves0.05%

For the Rub

0.36 kg [12.7 oz]Ground Black Peppercorns7.2%
0.21 kg [7.4 oz]Ground Coriander Seeds4.2%
Note: Pepper to Coriander ratio is usually 2:1, this one adds a bit more Coriander
0.1875 kg [6.6 oz]White Sugar3.75%
Note: Adjust sugar to taste -- down to 0%, up to 7.5%; MSM should have less sugar than pastrami
0.05 kg [1.76 oz]Garlic powder1%
0.0325 kg [1.14 oz]Chile Pepper Flakes0.65%

For Smoking

  1. Charcoal - lump or briquettes, depending on your smoker, enough for 4-5 hours of low heat (250F)
  2. Smoke wood - about 4 to 6 fist-sized chunks of fruit wood (apple/cherry), pecan or maple. Hickory can be mixed in but sparingly (say 2 pieces out of 6). MSM traditionally used maple but in modern times isn't smoked at all. I like pecan.

For Serving

  1. Rye bread
  2. Mustard
  3. Pickles (optional)
  4. A large sharp knife
  5. A large fork

Dry Cure Procedure

  1. Trim some fat off the brisket, particularly on sides and top. Leave at least 1/4 to 1/2" of the fat cap on the bottom.
  2. Rub the garlic powder on the brisket.
  3. Combine the kosher salt with the curing salt, being mindful of meat to salt ratios. Rub the brisket with the salt mixture. If there's excess, throw it in the bottom of the ziplock bag.
  4. Grind the remaining dry cure ingredients and mix together in a large bowl. Rub the meat with the dry cure spices. There shouldn't be much excess, but it can go in the ziplock.
  5. Place the brisket in the bottom of the ziplock back, try to ensure any excess that was in the bag is evenly distributed on the meat.
  6. Squeeze the air out of the bag and close the zipper; store the ziplock bag in a cold room or refrigerator, around 38-40F (not super cold).
  7. Overhaul (turn over) the brisket every 12 hours or so, for 7 days. Smaller briskets can take less time (roughly, I'd estimate a 6 lb brisket for 5 days, a 15 lb brisket for 9 days).
  8. After the cure, take the brisket out of the bag, and rinse off the curing spices.
  9. Fill a large sink with water and soak the brisket for 3 hours, changing water every 1/2 hour. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels.

Rub and Smoke Procedure

  1. Grind the rub ingredients and mix together in a large bowl. Rub the meat with the dry rub.
  2. Optionally, wrap the brisket in ziplock again and let it sit in the dry rub in a fridge or cold room for 6-8 hours. (I skip this sometimes)
  3. Light the smoker with the smoke wood, to 225-250F
  4. Smoke the brisket until it reaches 165F internal temperature - around 4 to 5 hours, depending on the brisket size and temperature of your smoker
  5. Remove from smoker, and either proceed with steaming, or wrap in foil, then ziplock or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to eat

Steaming and Serving

  1. Carve the fatty (thicker, point end) of the brisket to separate it from the leaner (flat end) meat, and carve again into smaller chunks to fit in your preferred steamer.
  2. If using a stovetop steamer, get the water steaming, and keep on low. Oven roasting pans should be filled with water up to the rack and the oven set to 200F. If using sous-vide, set your immersion circulator for 140F.
  3. Steam for 3 hours, until the brisket is fork tender.
  4. If using sous vide, you have two options. (a) Vaccuum pack your chunk and cook for up to 72 hours. I found this didn't work as well as straight steaming, hence ... (b) The modernist cuisine way calls for putting an equal weight of the pastrami brine (water would be fine) in the bag with the pastrami, seal it (this may be difficult with non-chamber sealers), and cooking for 72 hours. I have not personally tried this approach yet.
  5. Once tender, grab the chunk with a large fork, carve brisket chunks against the grain with a sharp knife, serve on rye bread with mustard.

Ingredient notes

  1. Beef cuts. In order of preference: Full packer brisket, beef cheeks, boneless short ribs. Most MSM is from the brisket, and has widest variety of "fatty vs. lean" cuts. I will be discussing brisket in this recipe, but other cuts are great for beginners (and have great flavour). Ensure you get a good cut: USDA Prime or Choice and/or Canada AAA or Prime. Note that brisket in the USA is much cheaper than in Canada, UDSA Choice runs for $2/pound whereas Canada AAA can be $6-7/pound. That means in Canada you'd be dropping a C-note for a full packer brisket.
  2. Salt. I prefer Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt's feel and density, but use whatever you can get. Make sure it's just non-iodized sodium chloride, it isn't a mix. A 3/4 full box should be sufficient (i.e. a brisket will use up to 2/3 of a pound). Always measure salt by weight when curing - 2 cups of diamond crystal have the same weight of 1 cup of table salt! It's the same stuff, but the flakes / crystals are of a different size.
  3. Curing (pink) Salt .This is usually a 6.25% Sodium Nitrate (cure) to 93.75% Sodium Chloride (salt) mixture, and died pink to ensure you don't mistake it for regular salt. This is available at most Bass Pro Shops as LEM Cure, and one packet will cure up to 100 pounds of meat. For those worried about the health effects of nitrates, please see this blog post from Michael Ruhlman. In short: don't worry about it. Use only the amount required, and it is safe.
  4. Sugar. White refined is fine; demerara or turbinado sugar also is fine and you may prefer the more molasses-y taste.

Sources of Recipe Inspiration

This is a direct derivation of what I learned from these sources, and all credit goes to them for pioneering home smoked MSM / Pastrami:

  1. This Chowhound thread
  2. This eGullet thread
  3. The Modernist Cuisine bookset, which has a very similar ingredient list to mine, but uses a brine instead of a dry cure, and has more sugar, since it is Pastrami.
  4. The Three Squabbling Asians
  5. The Virtual Weber Bullet recipe from Chris Allingham
  6. The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board threads on Pastrami and MSM
  7. And last but not least, Michael Ruhlman


  1. See my Flickr photoset for a few of photos of the ziplock bag , brisket, and yummy results from a couple of attempts.

The Steve Jobs Diet

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

If the fitness, diet & nutrition industries were to diagnose Steve Jobs' weight problems, they'd likely say he wasn't eating enough, or was exercising too much.

I have no idea what Steve's hormone imbalance is, but I'd surmise it has something to do with insulin.

We've been accustomed to believe that weight management isn't a hormone problem, it's due to gluttony and sloth. The evidence is starting to mount that it's more complicated than that.

From the Telegraph article...

'The job of determining how fuels will be used - whether we will store them as fat or burn them for energy - is carried out by the hormone insulin with LPL,' says Taubes. 'Because insulin determines fat accumulation, it's quite possible that we get fat not because we eat too much or exercise too little, but because we secrete too much insulin.

Regardless of the underlying reason, here's hoping Steve recovers.

More obesity news...

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

More evidencethat obiesity is not caused by caloric intake, but by the quality of the calories. Via Andrew. I find it interesting that calories are now getting mandatory listings on restaurant menus just as we're discovering they have little impact on weight gain.

The body is a homeostatic system. Fat cells are continually replenished, they're not trashcans that store the fat you injest. This is all hormone-regulated, with insulin being the primarily driver of fat accumulation. Some people are much more predisposed to be insulin sensitive than others (I'm one of these folks). The notion of calorie-restriction has historically been considered a "semi-starvation diet" - something considered unnatural for centuries that became mainstream only in the past 40 years.

I continually recommend reading Gary Taubes's work for an eye opener.

Am I a low carber? Sometimes for long stretches, but I've had a hard time keeping it up lately. I don't cook a lot, and my girlfriend is vegetarian, so I have to hunt for salads mostly. Salty foods (chips in particular) are my kryptonite. Another weakness is social drinking ... a glass of wine or beer at a party or event , or on the weekend, is a great tension reliever, but it doesn't bode well if you're trying to lose weight. I usually feel a lot better when I'm low carbing (after a few days of discomfort, as your body sheds several pounds of water weight...), though I always get a strange "I'm not quite hungry, but I could eat something right now" feeling that takes time to set aside.


| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama.

Via Giza

Given the news lately, there's a lot of speculation of what went wrong with the economy.

"Greed" is often cited as the reason for our economic failures. I disagree. It might have been a motivation, sure, but firstly, most motivations are mixed. Secondly, since the market system arguably is designed to channel greed and self interest to fulfill needs, it doesn't tell us as to how the system failed in this case, nor does it give us guidance on how to fix things, as people aren't just going to "stop being greedy". Greed isn't illegal, and not everyone believes it is a sin.

I think the failure basically comes down to "Hubris". The market system certainly IS designed to, in the long run, destroy those that exhibit it.

It's really painful, unfortunately, when an almost an entire society has bought into bad ideas pushed by hubris, to the point that the government has to halt portions of the market system to ensure some level of stability.

Corporate welfare is a dangerous path, one that sacrifices the long run for the short term. I don't doubt we need it for the current crisis, but I fear that this has not been a short term trend but something that's occurred for decades, going back to the Chrysler bailout in the 1980's, numerous airline bailouts, etc. It may be that the U.S. government is not willing to let a major corporation fail -- that they let Lehman Brothers fall is almost a token gesture that we haven't completely abandoned the market's ability to correct hubris.

There at least are five levels that hubris should be considered:

a) belief in managerial and economic principles that are obsolete
b) the primacy of shareholder value over true productivity
c) risk management / faith in statistics
d) technocracy
e) education, particularly in what it means to teach leaders

None of these authors are whack jobs; if anything, they're mainstream iconoclasts; Henry Mintzberg is a common Havard Business Review contributer (even though he is a critic of the school), Peter Drucker is the management guru of the 20th century, John Ralston Saul was the husband of Canada's former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, and Nicholas Taleb is the author of the NYTimes best seller, the Black Swan.

"I would hope that American managers--indeed, managers worldwide--continue to appreciate what I have been saying almost from day one: that management is so much more than exercising rank and privilege, that it is about so much more than "making deals." Management affects people and their lives."
-Peter Drucker

The freedom to use crap

| 7 Comments | No TrackBacks

The FSF wants you to avoid the iPhone 3G in favour of OpenMoko Neo FreeRunner.

Some of the FSF's points have merit, but some are outright deceptive - for example that the iPhone exposes your whereabouts without your knowledge. It doesn't; in fact it always pops up with a confirmation before accessing the "location services", whether GPS or cell-tower triangulation. And you can turn it off through a global setting.

The biggest joke is the alternative. Freedom to modify and tinker and extend means little when the basis is barely useable. People will often tradeoff one freedom for another freedom. A more usable device arguably is just another form of freedom -- from hassle, annoyance, and wasted time.

Open source makes economic sense in many contexts, but I think they're at least 10 years away from even denting the mainstream in this market. Which is why, BTW, I think the FSF is targeting the iPhone. The iPhone represents a refutation to the idea that open, free, collaboration will necessarily lead to better products, and that proprietary software makers cannot compete.

The OpenMoko counter-argument is "give it time, in the long run, it will win". And look, in a way, I hope so. Using the iPhone is a great case of following Keynes' adage, in the long run, we are all dead., where we optimize for short term gratification at the expense of our future. By using the iPhone, we're supporting and contributing something that doesn't build something open for our collective future, but instead leases our future over to Apple. On the other hand, the iPhone does represent something that is important to our future -- the triumph of entrepreneurship over bureaucrats and technocrats. More on that in a moment.

I'll note that the economic angle isn't usually the FSF's preferred line of argument. It's more the OSI's tactic, though the FSF has certainly referenced it. On the other hand, the FSF argues for free software from an ethical stance. Without getting into the muck, my opinion basically is that the sort of freedom the FSF advocates is not, IMO, political freedom, and thus I don't consider it sacred. Whether one chooses to be imprisoned by license is an economic tradeoff, not capitulation to evil. I believe the author should have the option to retain certain limited rights, for a limited time, over its users. I believe in entrepreneurship and the Schumpeterian model of the economy. Profits should go to the innovators for a limited time, as profit is the source of tomorrow's jobs and developments.

The iPhone represents a triumph of entrepreneurship -- the Cathedral over the Bazaar. The user experience loosens the telecom bureaucrat's insistence on device control, or the technocrat's desire for infinite options. The rules of bazaar development are flipped: Scratch the user's itch, not the developer's. Release "when it's ready", not early. Users are not co-developers, and developers aren't even co-developers, they're cordoned off into their controlled area for the sake of the user experience.

But wait, several complications to this picture:

- Open source is not incompatible with entrepreneurship. The Mozilla Foundation demonstrates this regularly with Firefox. OTOH, the market dynamics of browsers imply that there's not a lot of money to be made through direct distribution. Moz is funded largely by complementary product placement: redirecting searches to Google.

- The iPhone OS X already uses plenty of open source: its web browser is open source, as is much of its operating system layer (including both BSD and GPLv2 code). They're both complex, mature areas of computing, where it's (again) hard to declare some kind of "secret sauce" that needs protection. So it is a great place for open source collaboration.

- Apple is exceptional in its ability to successfully deliver great software and build a thriving community with a cathedral model. Most aren't. Though, looking through Freshmeat, I'm not sure the ability to build solid software with a thriving community is intrinsic to either model. It's just hard to do.

One perspective is that the architecture of a project likely has more to do with its success, quoting Roy Fielding:

In spite of the hype and hysteria surrounding open source software development, there is very little that can be said of open source in general. Open source projects range in scope from the miniscule, such as the thousands of non-maintained code dumps left behind at the end of class projects, dissertations, and failed commercial ventures, to the truly international, with thousands of developers collaborating, directly or indirectly, on a common platform. One characteristic that is shared by the largest and most successful open source projects, however, is a software architecture designed to promote anarchic collaboration through extensions while at the same time preserving centralized control over the interfaces.

Which may bode well for Apple's approach to applications.

- Apple also has found a "secret sauce" that free software rarely measures up to: usability and aesthetics. "Taste" is a hard thing to replicate, especially when it's delivered as a tight coupling between software and hardware.

Against the Canadian DMCA

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Read the comic book; write to your MP.

CMCC says... "As we feared, this bill represents an American-style approach to copyright. It's all locks and lawsuits," said Safwan Javed, the drummer for the band Wide Mouth Mason and a member of the CMCC. "Rather than building a made-in-Canada proposal to help musicians get paid, the government has chosen to import American-style legislation that says the solution to the music industry's problems is suing our fans. Suing fans won't make it 1992 again. It's a new world for the music business and this is an old approach."
"Who gains from this bill?" asked CMCC member Brendan Canning, co-founder of Broken Social Scene. "It's not musicians. Musicians don't need lawsuits, we don't need DRM protection. These aren't the things that help us or our careers. What we do need is a government that is willing to sit down with all the stakeholders and craft a balanced copyright policy for Canada that will not repeat the mistakes made in the United States."

One of my favorite spots on earth...

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

... is smouldering.

I live 4 blocks away from the area... waking to lots of smoke this morning. My girlfriend's bike shop, open since 1914, is gone. I eat almost weekly at Shanghai Cowgirl directly across the street, and two of my favorite alternative clubs (BSC and Savage Garden) are across the street too -- all of those seem to be OK thankfully but closed for now.

A note on science

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

In reading Gary Taubes' new book Good Calories, Bad Calories, along with his recent UC Berkeley webcast, he drew my attention to the great and quotable Claude Bernard, who was the father of the science of medicine, and the man who discovered homeostasis.

Some quotes I think are quite worthy of reflection:

"Particular facts are never scientific; only generalization can establish science."

"A great discovery is a fact whose appearance in science gives rise to shining ideas, whose light dispels many obscurities and shows us new paths."

"In experimentation, it is always necessary to start from a particular fact and proceed to the generalization....but above all, one must observe."

Some ways to look at this:
- If you observe something that contradicts your prevailing theory, perhaps that theory is wrong.

- If you observe something that no mainstream theory explains, perhaps an alternative hypothesis is worthy of further study.

- One does not improve knowledge in a scientific manner by just building, specifying, or explaining new things. One improves knowledge by observing effects, and working back and fitting a consistent hypothesis.

I find in our profession, we most often fall back on arguments from authority over arguments from empirical evidence. This takes several forms: "If a particular vendor/community/person builds it, it MUST be good.", "if the experts agree, it they MUST be right", "if the analysis say it will be so, we MUST invest in it", etc.

Perhaps all of this is because it's so hard to create a controlled experiment when dealing with systems science (except perhaps as simulation). Or because most empirical observations in our field are anecdotal, because we don't have an open environment sharing results due to competition. I also think it may have to do with business managers' need to make technical policy decisions where a YES/NO is required, and tend to be taught that deferrment is bad.

Taubes' book, by the way, is a very deep technical read on the science of obesity, heart disease, fat accumulation and a political history of how policy makers mixed with inconclusive science may lead to a generation or more of disastrous consequences.

I take heart that technologists aren't the only ones known for their great blunders, but I pity the victims. The world needs paradigmatic subversives.

Counterfeiting Chaos

I fear for our country's future. If our economy is increasingly based on trade of intellectual works, draconian IP laws are not the way to make this economy flourish.

Canada's current copyright legislation is antiquated and in need of update. It does not have the assumed definitions & scope of "fair use" that currently is under fire within the U.S., whereas we have fair dealing. There are threats that what little fair dealing we have will be taken away if the copyright lobby gets its way with current legislators. The CRIA, Canadian Recording Industry Association, supports Canadian artists less and seems to be more of a shill for US copyright interests. A signficant number of major Canadian artists, including Avril Lavinge, Barenaked Ladies, Feist, Sam Roberts, Sloan, Brocken Social Scene, Billy Talent, Sarah McLachlan, etc., have split from the CRIA and started their own (Barenaked-founded) association, the CCRC, which advocates an end to P2P lawsuits, elimination of DRM, and liberalization of copyright law.

Meanwhile, Canadian CD sales are tumbling, 35% in Q1 of 2007, and 50% annually overall since 1999, while digital distribution is surging. Canadian blank CD-R sales have a copying levy that effectively makes music P2P distribution legal, which amusingly is based on the short-sightedness and slow reaction time of the recording industry lobbyists and legislators, who somehow thought that the CD would be the primary vehicle of copying for 15+ years. Now the CRIA is fighting the very beast they helped create.

So, with this backdrop, it drives me absolutely nuts to read that the RCMP has completely fabricated levels of counterfeiting at $10-30 billion annually, a number that has no basis in fact, but has been trumpeted around by lobby groups and vested interest.

In the words of Stephen Colbert... "It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty."

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Society category.

Business is the previous category.

Tech is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

About Me
(C) 2003-2011 Stuart Charlton

Blogroll on Bloglines

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and are not necessarily shared by my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with.