Flavour Guy: Quebec’s soft-drink heritage perfect for brisket braising

With all of the political imbroglios going on, you may have missed a really big story that briefly hit CNN: “For the first time in years, Coca-Cola is introducing a new coke flavour – Orange Vanilla.”  According to Kate Carpenter, Coke’s Director of Innovation, this is “a way to encourage customers who are seeking more variety to stick with Coke rather than picking up a different soda.”

Since Ms. Carpenter works out of Coke’s head office in Atlanta, she should consider visiting Quebec to see real variety in the soft drink sector.

Soft drinks here? Have we become so focused on topping french fries with foie gras or checking out the latest vegan pop-up that we have neglected one of Quebec’s signature heritage foods – the soft drink?

In few other places is it called that. According to McGill linguistic professor Charles Boberg, Americans usually ask for soda or pop, in England it can be a fizzy pop, and in Ireland, a lemonade is a general term.

In Quebec we ask for a liqueur douce, a soft drink. If it’s basic bubbly, I might just ask for mineral water or, if I am feeling nostalgic, a 2¢ plain. But why ask for an Orange Vanilla when Quebec has its own Red Champagne? This carbonated drink is made from apples and bottled near Lac St. Jean; or try their Orange Kiri, which promises “une explosion en bouche”. Red Champagne has been around since the 1930s outlasting icons like Kik Cola, Freshie, Eskimo, and Steinberg’s Ice Cola.

Now, in addition to Red Champagne, we can get locally produced Bec cranberry, cola or lime sodas, each made with maple syrup. They’re sold in most Metro supermarkets and as well as the Jean Talon market’s Marché des Saveurs. Want something sweeter to pick you up? Try 1642’s Cola made with maple syrup and caffeine or their citrus and basil infused Yuzu.

Then there’s Bull’s Head. It began in 1896 in the Eastern Townships, closed up in the 1970s, and was brought back to life 10 years ago. Bull’s Head makes cola as well as a zesty ginger beer and ginger ale. For something essentially Québecois consider Emile Bertrand’s spruce beer – admittedly an acquired taste – but perhaps the perfect accompaniment to poutine.

Or Marco’s birch, ginger, or spruce beers. And we can’t forget Cott beverage’s Black Cherry Cola, the classic go-to drink with smoked meat.

Orange Vanilla for variety? Perhaps not. Think globally sure, but drink locally.

Brisket with cola

The classic brisket recipe calls for cola. There are several versions, all of which substitute cola for the beer or red wine commonly used for slow braising.

Trim all but a thin layer of fat from a 4 or 5 pound brisket. Make a rub by mixing a teaspoon each of sugar and black pepper with a tablespoon each of paprika, salt, finely chopped garlic, onion powder and dry mustard. Coat the brisket with the rub and put the meat in a tightly wrapped plastic bag to refrigerate overnight. An hour before cooking, take it out of the fridge, remove it from the bag, and let the meat come to room temperature.

Preheat an oven to 300F (just under 150C). Take a Dutch oven or pot (just large enough to hold the brisket) with a tightly fitting lid. Heat the pot over medium heat with a quarter-cup of oil. Slice a pound of onions and cook them in the oil until they are golden brown. Remove them from the pan. Wipe the pan to remove any onion remnants. Increase the heat slightly and add another tablespoon of oil. Sear the brisket until all sides have a brown crust. Mix a tablespoon of tomato paste with two cups of cola. Add this to the pot and put the onions on top.

Cover the pot and put it in the oven. If the pot isn’t well sealed, put a layer of foil or parchment paper between the lid and the pot. Cook for 4 hours or until a fork turns easily in the middle of the brisket. Remove it from the pot and let it rest for 20 minutes, covered, on a warm platter before slicing. While it rests make an au jus gravy by spooning off the fat and reducing the liquid so that it thickens slightly.

This is even better made a day ahead. Serve with a dégustation of fine Quebec colas. 

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