Ask any foreigner about poutine and they’ll probably mention something about the Russian President. Ask any Canadian about Vladimir Putin and they’ll start drooling because all they heard was poutine.
This quintessential Canadian dish couldn’t be anymore straightforward. French fries, cheese curd, and gravy — that’s it. But is it really that simple? Any inebriated party-goer stumbling out of a bar at 2am on a Saturday night, from Halifax to Victoria, may certainly say it is that simple. However, ask a sober foodie in the light of day, or even better, go straight to the source in Quebec to discover what makes this dish far more complex than meets the eye.
I’ve had my fair share of poutine. Some utterly delicious, while others were a soft soggy, greasy mess. As easy as it is to make, it’s equally easy to mess up. For the more adventurous poutine seekers, variations of bacon cheeseburger, seafood, and pulled pork can be found in a Canadian poutinary. My personal favorite growing up was poutine topped with donair meat. If you’ve never heard of donair, don’t fret, I’ll tackle that Greek-Canadian treasure at a later date.
To make just three basic elements work in unison, they must all be individually perfect. That means an extra crispy french fry that contrasts against a soft squeaky cheese curd and melded together with steaming hot gravy. Timing is crucial, but nowhere near as important as quality.
Thrice Cooked French Fries
The fries used in this poutine are the same as the ones mentioned in a previous post: Not Just Any Burger and Fries.
Feel free to read through the original post if you haven’t already, but here is a copy of the french fry recipe.
- 6 to 8 large potatoes
- 1 L Sunflower Oil, for frying
- 4 L water, for boiling
- 2 tbsp potato starch
- 2 tbsp oil
- Kosher or Sea salt to season
Cut the potatoes into fries thick or thin, your choice. Soak them in ice cold water for at least 30 minutes.
The next step is to boil them. Boiling the fries will cause tiny ridges along the edges that will absorb the oil, creating a crispness. It’s best to put the fries in boiling water to shock them, rather than have them come up to a boil gradually.
Boil the fries until they’re just ready to start falling apart. Lift them out of the water, onto a cooling rack. Be careful. Let them sit in a cool dry atmosphere. The fridge is a perfect place. This will help draw a lot of excess moisture out. Let them dry for a minimum of four hours.
Before we fry them, place all the fries on a baking tray and sprinkle with potato starch, then drizzle 2 tbsp oil. Gently massage the starch and oil all over the fries, covering the entire fry.
Now it’s time for the first frying. This is called the blanching stage. Heat oil to 120 degrees Celsius, no hotter. Cook in small batches, but as you do, agitate them, either by constantly moving the basket (if using a deep fryer) or by carefully moving the pot on the stove.
Just as the fries turn ever so golden, take them out and place them on the cooling rack again. But don’t let the oil go above 120 degrees.
Allow to cool completely.
The third and final frying will be fast and hot. Crank the heat up to 180 degrees. Toss the fries in and continually agitate them by lifting them in and out of the hot oil. Should only takes 3-5 minutes to achieve that super crispy exterior. Remember to work with them in small batches.
Take the fries out of the oil and into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt.
I must credit The Cheese Queen, Ricki Carroll, of New England Cheesemaking Suppy Company for her informative website and excellent recipe for cheese curds: http://www.cheesemaking.com/Recipe_CheeseCurds.html
Check out her website for great cheese recipes and affordable supplies that are shipped all over the world.
Below are photos of my adventure in making cheese curds. If interested in making your own curds, be sure to read Ricki Carroll’s recipe carefully since it’s much more detailed than my description that follows.
- 7.5 liters of whole milk
- 1/2 tsp calcium chloride
- 1 packet of thermophilic culture
- 1/2 tsp animal rennet
- 1/4 water
- 2 tsp salt
First I warmed the milk to 35.6C, then added calcium chloride and thermophilic culture.
After 30 minutes I added the rennet and waited 25 minutes for the whey to clear. Then I cut the curd into 2cm cubes.
Next, I stirred the curd and slowly heated them up to 46.7C and cooked it for 45 minutes. And lastly, I drained the curd into a cheesecloth and pressed it with 4kg of weight for 3 hrs.
And my final product — perfectly squeaky cheese curds I sprinkled with salt.
Now I have 1kg of cheese curd ready for poutine.
- 2 chicken carcasses
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks of celery
- 1 large onion
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1.5 liter hot water
- 2 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- 1/2 cup white wine to deglaze
First chop the chicken carcasses into big, but manageable pieces. Also chop the carrot, celery, and onion into big pieces.
In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, add oil. Then put the chicken pieces in. Let them sizzle and stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the pieces are a rich golden color and have really stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Add the veggies and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes. If the brown bits stuck to the bottom start to turn black, then add the wine. Ideally, you want those bits dark brown, but not black.
After you’ve deglazed the bottom of the pot, you can add all the water, 1 tbsp salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and let simmer covered for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, drain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve. Use as needed.
- 1 Liter chicken stock
- 3 tbsp flour
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp yeast extract (Vegemite or Marmite)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1 tsp ground sage
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp tarragon
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion power
- 1/4 ground rosemary
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- more salt (optional)
In a large pot combine equal amounts of butter and flour. Start with 2 tbsp each. Stir on medium heat until the roux turns brown and has a nutty scent. About 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a pestle and mortar or blender, combine thyme, marjoram, sage, pepper, tarragon, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, cloves, and nutmeg. Crush into a fine powder.
Add spice mixture and yeast extract to the roux. Then whisk stock into roux, starting with one cup at a time. As it thickens, continue adding more stock to desired thickness. If the gravy becomes to thin simply mix 1 tbsp of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of cold water into a cup, stir well then add to gravy a little at a time until it thickens.
Simmer gravy for at least 30 minutes before using. If using the next day, allow gravy to cool, then store in a container in the fridge.
As shown in the photo below, to assemble, simply pile fries onto a plate or in a bowl, pack a handful of cheese curd on top, and ladle very hot gravy over top.
As a final note, I discourage use of a less than premium quality stock or gravy, but there are good ones out there if you don’t want to make it. Also, cheese curd isn’t always readily available in all supermarkets, and though nothing can truly substitute a squeaky cheese curd, when you’re in a jam a mild cheddar, gouda, or Swiss style cheeses, broken off into chunks can replace the curd and still be satisfying.
Enjoy this purely Canadian guilt-ridden fest!!!