Friday, March 5, 2010

Poutine convert in the house

My first memory of poutine was seeing it in the cafeteria at the ski lodge where we spent a great deal of time in my adolescent years. The mountain was called Last Mountain (it's since been renamed Crystal Mountain, whatever, we don't talk about that) and it was about a half-hour from our home. I was in line to get some hot chocolate, probably, and maybe some french fries, but the pictures of the french fries in gravy with some cheese in the mixture looked pretty revolting to me.

That image stuck. From then on, whenever asked "gravy with that?" when ordering fries in Canada, I would automatically say no, and try and keep the edge of my lip from curling in disgust.

So why did I decide to add poutine to the Olympic menu at work this week? I think somewhere along the way in the past couple of decades, while I never actually ate poutine, I decided it really couldn't be THAT bad, right? My brother loves it, and even makes it at home for himself. And my husband stepped out and ordered fries with gravy (he's not so into the cheese part) this past Christmas in Canada and pronounced it yummy. His rationale was that we eat gravy with our mashed potatoes, why not with french fries? Sort of makes sense to me. And, since I have a fundamental belief that cheese makes everything better, poutine definitely seemed like something I would finally need to try.

Here's Wikipedia's take on poutine:
The dish originated in rural Quebec, Canada, in the late 1950s. Several Québécois communities claim to be the birthplace of poutine, including Drummondville (by Jean-Paul Roy in 1964), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville. One often-cited tale is that of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that poutine was invented in 1957, when a customer ordered fries while waiting for his cheese curds from the Kingsey cheese factory in Kingsey Falls (now in Warwick and owned by Saputo Incorporated). Lachance is said to have exclaimed "ça va faire une maudite poutine" ("it will make a damn mess"), hence the name. The sauce was allegedly added later, to keep the fries warm longer.

And it gets international press, too... from the New Yorker, Nov. 23, 2009, article by Calvin Trillin:
Poutine was invented in rural Quebec. In recent years, it has rapidly widened its range. National franchise restaurants in Canada like Harvey’s and New York Fries and Burger King now have poutine on the menu even in provinces that are overwhelmingly Anglophone. Canadian chefs with national reputations often do gourmet takes on poutine. Commenting on the results of a nationwide survey last summer, Roy MacGregor wrote that one of the more surprising discoveries was the possibility that “the national food of Canada is now poutine.” Poutine might be an appropriate national dish for a country that prides itself on lumpy multiculturalism.

So how could I not have poutine on the menu?

It was pretty easy, after all. Bought the french fries. Bought the cheese curds. Made the gravy. There's some discussion on the gravy--chicken/turkey stock or beef stock? I went beef stock. And used Emeril's recipe from Food Network:

Poutine gravy
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups beef stock

In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the butter and flour. Stir until incorporated. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes for a dark roux. Stir in the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

To serve, mound the fries in a bowl or soup plate. Spoon the gravy over the fries and crumble the cheese. Serve immediately.

Cheese curds are certainly encouraged, as authentic poutine flavor relies on the texture of the cheese curds melting. But a good shredded mozzarella should come close. For the lunch on Monday I gave mozzarella  and monterey jack as options along with the fresh cheese curds, which I found online at Beecher's Cheese in Seattle.

So what can I say? I tried it and now I'm in, big time. It's rich, gooey and filling--perfect winter food. And now, post-poutine, it's time for a walk!


  1. Found on the 'net:
    "May your potatoes always be crisp and may the cheese “sing” in its freshness. For, what is a poutine but a glorious ode to the perfect melange of spuds, curd and brown roux!"
    -LouLou, Laval Ouest, Québec
    (This totally needs to go in your sidebar, Sher! heh heh)

  2. For the truly addicted:


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