Poutine (pronounced Pou-Tin in Quebec French and Pou-Teen by most Anglos) is a dish composed of french fries/pommes frites, a peppery chicken or veal Velouté sauce, and fresh cheddar curds. Also known as “heart attack in a bowl” due to its wonderfully decadent artery clogging taste and the temptation to overeat it, this wonderful French-Canadian dish is truly one to die for so to speak. :-)
A number of people claim credit for the creation of the dish which originally appeared in the late 1950’s. Some people like to say that the name is a bastardization of the English word “pudding” but the Quebec Office of the French Language says that the word simply means a “mess.”
The penultimate French-Canadian comfort food, today one can get Poutine at many places across Canada and in the Province of Quebec there are many restaurants that have gussied up the original dish. You can find it in pubs, diners and even in fast food restaurants.
There are even restaurants where the main item on the menu is Poutine – in a wide variety of styles. You can get your Poutine with diced peppers and onions added or with hotdogs, sausage, chopped or shredded chicken or topped with spaghetti sauce instead of gravy. From its working class roots Poutine has developed into a dish that spans all classes. You can even get Poutine in upscale restaurants that contains lobster or foie gras!
Since Poutine was allegedly created in a restaurant one doesn’t often think of making this simple dish at home but it is relatively easy to do. The proper ingredients aren’t always easy to find and the freshness of the cheese curds is paramount. The cheese curds have to be absolutely fresh made that morning or the night before. Do the “freshness test” to be certain. Fresh curds are easy to identify, even to a first-time Poutine maker, because they squeak when chewed. The squeaking is caused by high humidity content (47% is typical) and a slight patina of oil. The curds should slide and rub against your teeth. The squeak is unmistakable and extremely important. If you do not think that you are hearing it, you probably are not, meaning that the curds you are eating are too old to give you a good Poutine.
Note that fresh curds are vital, but an equally important part of Poutine is the sauce. When making Poutine at home in Canada one does not always make a fresh sauce, but rather uses sauce from a pouch, jar or can.
The most frequently used brand of Poutine sauce is St. Hubert which is also the brand that many restaurants use. Available in a powdered form or in cans and jars of sauce ready to use, it is basically a thickened chicken stock, seasoned with pepper, and a taste of onions.
If you have studied French cooking you may recognize the base as a standard Velouté sauce with some additions and modifications. In some grocery stores/supermarkets the French language side of the label may be facing out. The label will say mélange à sauce poutine. (This is so you know what you are looking for.)
You can find St. Hubert sauce online at CanadianFavourites.com or at PoutineSauce.com. You might also be able to find it on eBay. (Note – although I recently started using Google AdSense I am letting Google place the ads for now. I have NOT started doing affiliate links, etc. of my own yet. So all links to date inside my posts are shared as a public service/reference only. Should that change I will let you know.)
Purists will tell you that the fries need to be Prince Edward Island potatoes but any decent French fry/Pommes frites potato variety will do. Some places will prepare the fries “home-style” instead of as long fries. That is OK as well. They will also claim that you can only use cheddar cheese curds from one of only three or four manufacturers. As long as the cheese curds are fresh and have a nice briny taste it shouldn’t matter.
So you want to make Poutine at home? For each portion of Poutine, you should place about 2 cups of fries into a large bowl. Add ¾ to 1 cup of cheddar cheese curds on top of the fries and then ladle 1 cup of hot Poutine sauce on top of the fries and cheese. Let the dish rest for approximately 5 minutes to that the flavours can mix together. Then chow down. Believe it or not this is considered ONE portion. It is what you can expect to get in a restaurant and there are people who can actually finish it. It makes for a full meal.
This is the basic classic Poutine upon which all other Poutines are modeled upon. Whatever else you choose to add to it to make it your “own” version is totally up to you but I suggest you try an original Poutine first.
One must remember that all Poutines are derived from the same basic recipe. So that “Fries – Animal Style” that you find at In-N-Out burger, the “Disco Fries” you get at diners in New Jersey, cheese fries with gravy or chili cheese fries that are very popular in bars are all variations on the theme. However most places in the US are using a beef gravy instead of a chicken or veal gravy and they use shredded cheese – usually mozzarella instead of cheddar and definitely not fresh curds. Again I cannot reiterate enough the importance of fresh cheddar cheese curds – or just fresh cheese curds of any variety – as long as they squeak!
If you haven’t yet tried Poutine do so the next time you go to Canada or try making them yourself. You will be in for a huge treat!
After you’ve made it come on back and let me know how you liked it. Also if you are already a Poutine lover please share your favorite styles of Poutine below. Thanks.