If you’ve ever enjoyed the peppery-sweet taste of a rib eye seasoned with Montreal steak spice, you can thank a Canadian grill cook known as “The Shadow.”
Like many preserved-meat seasonings, the popular blend has its roots in Eastern European cooking. Along with pepper and garlic, Montreal steak spice features coriander and dill, common in recipes from Romania. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that most accounts trace the origin of the spice blend to a deli founded by a Romanian immigrant. Not just any deli either, but Schwartz’s, the city’s most well-known purveyor of smoked-meat sandwiches and the oldest deli in Canada.
According to Bill Brownstein, who wrote a book about the famed deli, every employee was allowed to eat their fill of one item: cooked liver. Perhaps this limited diet was why one cook, Morris Sherman, became so thin that he earned the nickname “The Shadow.” The joke was that if he turned sideways, only his shadow would be visible. Legend has it that one day, Sherman used a new blend of spices over the liver. When customers started asking for the spices on other menu items, especially their steaks, Montreal steak spice was born.
When sprinkled on a steak pre- or post-grilling, the taste of Montreal steak spice is comparable to another deli favorite: pastrami. Zesty and complex, the blend is more than a point of local pride. As Brownstein says, it’s “basically the standard by which all steaks should be seasoned, not just [in Canada] but throughout the continent.”
He’s not entirely wrong: Today, spice companies sell variations of the blend in Canada and beyond. But it’s not just limited to meat anymore. Alongside their other eclectic potato chips, Canadians can have them in steak spice flavor.
Need to Know
For those who want to try Montreal steak spice at the source, the lines at Schwartz's can be long. Otherwise, it can be found adorning sandwiches around Canada, or sold in jars online.
Where to Try It
Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal, H2W 1X9, Canada
The birthplace of Montreal steak spice. Prepare for a line.