There are many reasons to love the city of Montreal. But the smoked meat has got to be in the top five. Sure, everyone bangs on about the poutine, but for my money, Montreal’s most iconic culinary achievement is this king among deli meats. If you haven’t had the pleasure of snagging a Montreal smoked meat sandwich before, allow me to explain. Basically, the sandwich is comprised of thin slices of peppercorn-coated meat piled high between two slices of light rye bread. Mustard is an optional component but for me, there is nothing optional about it. Today’s Smoked Meat Chopped Salad attempts to capture the spirit of that legendary sandwich in a salad format. And while it’ll never beat tearing into a smoked meat sandwich in the city that birthed it, this salad does come pretty damn close.
When it comes to food, I have a soft spot for vintage Americana. From pretzel dogs to patty melts, there’s something about classic American fare that just tickles me and the chopped salad is no exception. The chopped salad’s origins can be traced back to La Scala restaurant in LA. According to Hollywood legend, Natalie Wood requested that her salad be chopped first. But apparently, this is a myth. The restaurant decided to chop their salad comprise of greens, salami, mozzarella, and chickpeas because so many of their patrons were wearing gowns and gloves. A difficult thing to wear when eating a messy salad.
Some people claim the true original chopped salad is the Brown Derby’s Cobb Salad created some 25 years earlier than La Scala’s in the 1930s. But regardless of its true origin, La Scala was the first to write “chopped salad” on their menu. But what is a chopped salad? Well, a chopped salad is a salad in which all the components are chopped to approximately the same size. Now, that you know what a chopped salad is, let’s tackle my Smoked Meat rendition.
Montreal smoked meat is a beef brisket that has been dry-cured and hot-smoked until cooked through. The preparation is similar to New York’s pastrami, but the dry rub differs. Montreal smoked meat is encrusted in a peppercorn heavy dry rub with significantly less sugar than that of pastrami. Montreal smoked meat also contains several more flavoring agents, such as mustard seed, coriander, and garlic. Pastrami is commonly made the plate cut, whereas Montreal smoked meat is made with brisket.
So you know the salad and you know the meat, so let’s put it all together. The first thing we’re going to do is tackle yet another Jewish deli classic, the pickled egg. We’re going to make beet pickled eggs because the fuschia is far too pretty not to do it. And pickled beets are excellent salad fodder. The pickling process starts with roasting the beets. Place the beets whole in a hot oven and let roast until fork tender.
Once they’re cool, peel and chop the beets and place them in a jar. Add a few peeled hard-boiled eggs to the jar. Then it’s time to make the pickling solution. Now, this is a quick pickle solution, so these will only keep for six weeks in the fridge. If you want to store your beets long-term, please consult another recipe preferably from a source that is very familiar with safe canning processes. I admit I am not that source.
The pickling solution is a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. You can add whole spices to the mix if you want. I went with mustard seeds, peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves. They are optional, though. Basically, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring it to a boil and let cook until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the mixture over the beets and the eggs and let pickle overnight in the fridge. And just like that, you’re done the most demanding portion of this recipe.
The next day, simply wash and chop your greens and toast your rye bread croutons. Dress your greens with a double mustard vinaigrette – had to work that mustard in somehow – and pile the greens on a platter. Now, warm up your smoked meat. I used Schwartz’s smoked meat, which comes prepackaged in handy dandy bags that you can submerge in boiling water. But if you got your smoked meat from the deli counter, you can just pop it in the microwave. Or you can have it cold if you prefer.
Place the chopped smoke meat on top of the greens and add the rest of your toppings. I when with a bit of a cobb salad configuration. But you could also throw everything in a bowl and toss it together. I do think it’s worth the extra effort to arrange the toppings on top of the salad, though. It’s a simple and, in my opinion, fun task and it creates a huge visual impact. Plus you really get to show off those fuschia eggs you took the trouble to pickle.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Smoked Meat Chopped Salad. It’s a great way to get your Montreal fix when you’re nowhere near it. And even if you’re not heart-sick for the fair city, this salad is well worth the effort. Loaded with flavor and pretty to boot, this dish is sure to make an impact at any table.
Smoked Meat Chopped Salad with Rye Croutons
- small saucepan
- Large mason jar
Pickled Beets and Eggs
- 3 beets
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 12 black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
Double Mustard Vinaigrette
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard heaping
- 1 tbsp whole grain mustard heaping
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp malt vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp kosher salt
Smoked Meat Chopped Salad
- 4 slices light rye bread cut into cubes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 heads romaine lettuce split lengthwise, finely chopped, washed
- 1½ cups watercress washed, tightly packed
- 1 batch Double Mustard Vinaigrette see above
- 250g (9oz) smoked meat** warmed and diced
- 3 dill pickles diced
- 1 batch Pickled Beets and Eggs see above, diced
For the Pickled Beets and Eggs
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper and add the scrubbed beets. Drizzle the olive oil over top of them and sprinkle them with the salt. Transfer the beets to the oven and roast until fork-tender. About an hour. Take the beets out of the oven and set them aside to cool.3 beets, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp kosher salt
- While the beets are cooling, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and reduce to a simmer. Lower the eggs into the water and cook for 10 minutes. Transfer the eggs to an ice bath and let sit for another 10 minutes. Peel the eggs and set them aside.½ tsp baking soda, 3 large eggs
- When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and cut them into wedges. Place the eggs and the beets in a large mason jar and set them aside.
- Pour the water and vinegar into a small saucepan. Add the sugar, salt, mustard seed, and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve.1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup water, ¼ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 12 black peppercorns
- Pour the pickling liquid over the beets and eggs and top with the bay leaves. Let cool to room temperature before placing a lid on the jar and transferring it to the fridge. Let pickle overnight or for a minimum of 12 hours.2 bay leaves
For the Double Mustard Vinaigrette
- Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Pour into a resealable container and refrigerate until ready to serve.1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp yellow mustard, 1 tbsp whole grain mustard, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup + 2 tbsp malt vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, ½ tsp kosher salt
For the Salad
- Preheat the oven to 400°F
- Arrange the rye bread cubes on a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the rye bread with olive oil and sprinkle them with the salt. Place them in the oven and roast for 10 minutes or until golden. Set them aside to cool.4 slices light rye bread, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp kosher salt
- Place the romaine and watercress in a large bowl and add the Double Mustard Vinaigrette. Toss to combine. Pile the greens onto a platter and top with the warmed smoked meat, rye croutons, pickled beets and eggs, and dill pickle. Serve immediately.2 heads romaine lettuce, 1½ cups watercress, 1 batch Double Mustard Vinaigrette, 250g (9oz) smoked meat**, 3 dill pickles, 1 batch Pickled Beets and Eggs