Finding a brisket of beef is surprisingly difficult in Montreal.
One would expect with the fame of their unique variety of smoked meat which uses exactly that cut it would be readily available in every supermarket meat department.
Maybe the long lineup of hungry folk I saw snaking up a block along St. Lawrence Boulevard, or le Boulevard St. Laurent if you wish, last weekend provided a key to this mystery.
It lead away from the narrow door of the famous Schwartz’s Montreal smoke meat eatery.
Could the steady lineup of folk waiting for a spot at one of the 10 Formica tables demonstrate such a demand that every brisket went automatically into the smoked meat trade?
Fortunately take-out customers can bypass the line, as I happily did.
Actually I went into Schwartz’s only to buy a jar of Putter’s pickles. That pickle serves as an absolutely essential accompaniment on their sandwich plate.
We have a bit of a family controversy to resolve. Which commercially available pickle really is the best to serve with our style of brisket?
Now I have a jar of Moishe’s best, a vinegar-less kosher dill and the Putter’s dill to taste test at a family gathering on Saturday.
No brisket meant that I had to call on my emergency backup. Giovanni Marroco, owner of the Boucherie GM on Jean Talon Est just on the eastern edge of the Italian district of Montreal has solved my meat problem before. Tell him what you need and, though it may take a few days, Giovanni will get it.
Probably the real reason for the difficulty getting a four- to five-kilo brisket here or anywhere but Kansas City where the home barbecue trade is so brisk that sections of meat coolers are devoted to them, may be that this cut is just plain tough.
Taken from basically the front armpit of the steer, it is the cut from behind the first five ribs. As an inferior cut, this poor people’s food demanded long hours of low-heat cooking or smoking.
Obviously it calls for far more effort or time than today’s average cook wants to put in. But if you wanted it moist and tender you have to break down the stringy collagen holding together the connective muscle tissues oh so slowly.
Over the years I have managed to come close to replicating the taste of the Kansas City barbecue using my mother’s hometown recipe.
Without a smokehouse I have to rely on bottled liquid smoke, which can never truly equal the taste of the real thing. A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to remind my self of that flavour while visiting Kansas City.
Along with a sister and brother, I headed down to the Boulevard Barbecue, one of my sister’s regular haunts. Danny Edwards, one of the doyens of Kansas City barbecue, runs it. He took up the mantle from his father Jake who opened his first barbecue in Kansas City in 1938 after first learning the trade at a cousin’s barbecue in Texas.
Once finished cutting brisket for the late-lunch crowd Edwards came over and sat with down us.
The meat was tremendous but as Edwards explained it is also the source of some controversy. Locals want to claim his meat as Kansas City style but its heritage is pure Texas.
The difference as Edwards, also known as L’il Jake, tells it is in the meat drippings. Simply put Texas style drains off the grease and lets the wood smoke, hickory or mesquite, flavour the meat.
Kansas City style allows the drippings to hit the coals, the combination of the grease vapours and the smoke form a flavour-filled crust on the meat.
As you read this column my brisket will likely be cooking away. Undoubtedly, low heat and careful attention to the meat will yield the desired result.
Now if only all the critical social and political challenges before us, from Ossetia and Afghanistan to global warming, could be dealt with as easily.