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).
- 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.
- A large sharp knife and fork. For cutting and serving the meat.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 cap||100%|
|0.2 kg [7.04 oz]||Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt||4%|
|Note: Dry cure salt guideline is 1 lb per 25 lb of meat|
|0.0125 kg [0.44 oz]||Curing (pink) salt||0.25%|
|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 Sugar||2%|
|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 Peppercorns||0.67%|
|0.03 kg [1.18 oz]||Ground Coriander Seeds||0.67%|
|0.025 kg [0.88 oz]||Mustard Seeds||0.5%|
|0.01 kg [0.35 oz]||Garlic powder||0.2%|
|0.01 kg [0.35 oz]||Ground Cinnamon||0.2%|
|0.01 kg [0.35 oz]||Fennel Seed||0.2%|
|0.005 kg [0.18 oz]||Ground Cloves||0.1%|
|0.0025 kg [0.09 oz]||Chile Pepper Flakes||0.05%|
|0.0025 kg [0.09 oz]||Ground Bay Leaves||0.05%|
For the Rub
|0.36 kg [12.7 oz]||Ground Black Peppercorns||7.2%|
|0.21 kg [7.4 oz]||Ground Coriander Seeds||4.2%|
|Note: Pepper to Coriander ratio is usually 2:1, this one adds a bit more Coriander|
|0.1875 kg [6.6 oz]||White Sugar||3.75%|
|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 powder||1%|
|0.0325 kg [1.14 oz]||Chile Pepper Flakes||0.65%|
- Charcoal - lump or briquettes, depending on your smoker, enough for 4-5 hours of low heat (250F)
- 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.
- Rye bread
- Pickles (optional)
- A large sharp knife
- A large fork
Dry Cure Procedure
- 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.
- Rub the garlic powder on the brisket.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- After the cure, take the brisket out of the bag, and rinse off the curing spices.
- 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
- Grind the rub ingredients and mix together in a large bowl. Rub the meat with the dry rub.
- 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)
- Light the smoker with the smoke wood, to 225-250F
- Smoke the brisket until it reaches 165F internal temperature - around 4 to 5 hours, depending on the brisket size and temperature of your smoker
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Steam for 3 hours, until the brisket is fork tender.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- This Chowhound thread
- This eGullet thread
- 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.
- The Three Squabbling Asians
- The Virtual Weber Bullet recipe from Chris Allingham
- The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board threads on Pastrami and MSM
- And last but not least, Michael Ruhlman
- See my Flickr photoset for a few of photos of the ziplock bag , brisket, and yummy results from a couple of attempts.