Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's 'Pootsin', not 'Pooteen'

Poutine has long been one of my favourite "fast food" indulgences.  Having grown up in Northern Ontario - specifically, Timmins - the poutineries were aplenty.  There was Riverside Chip Stand, The Burger Bus, Chez Nous, and then, just about any divey (but delicious) food joint had their own poutine offered on the menu.  It's not the kind of food that looks great, but boy does it do wonders to warm you, fill you up, and leave you feeling utterly satisfied.

For those of you who aren't in the know, poutine is fries with fresh cheese curds and gravy.  Make no mistake: shredded cheese does not a proper poutine make.  Sure, you may come across a place that offers both regular and 'Quebecois' poutine, but there really is only one way: the Quebec way.  And what makes it so, you ask?  Well, the gravy of course is very important, though there are MANY variations to making a good gravy.  The real deal is in the curds.  You should have the freshest curds you can find - the kind that squeak when you chew them.  And if you wondered why they squeak, well, it has something to do with the water in them.  The fresher the curd, the more the squeak.  Beyond that, it's too science-geeky for me and just Google it if you must know.

So, since I'd had poutine on the brain, I love to cook, and the Olympics were opening and people were coming over I thought, "what more Canadian than to make poutine from scratch?!"  And so I did.

There are a couple things you must get right.  I already talked about the curds.  OK, find some good ones.  The white ones - not the orange ones.  Check.  Next, get yourself some russet potatoes.  Russets have the right amount of water/starch ratio to make them THE best potato for fries.  And if you're not sure which ones are russets, they're the ones that have a brown, thicker skin that is dull (not waxy looking), and they usually look a bit dirtier than the others.  Also known for being baking potatoes.

Next is the gravy part.  Bad gravy can ruin your poutine.  I did struggle with whether to do beef gravy or chicken gravy or (gasp!) powdered gravy.  In the end, I went for a beef/chicken gravy, and opted to fancy it up a bit with red wine, shallot and thyme.  I also chose to go for homemade stock, not store-bought.  Always better flavour.  But, if you don't have time to make the stock, you can usually find a good one at your local butcher store.

All-told, I took 2 days to produce the poutine (don't worry - you don't need 2 days ... just means some can be done ahead if you want).  Day 1 was making the gravy and cutting the potatoes (when you leave them immersed in cold water, they won't brown and it'll remove some of the starch), and day 2 was the fry-making and the grand finale: Alyssa's homemade poutine.

Want to try it at home?  You can find the recipe here.  Feel free to make your own variations on the gravy part; I'd actually love to hear how it turned out and if you loved it, get the recipe.

So there you have it.  Find your inner Canadian (or, Canadienne), work up an appetite, and dig in to a forkful of hot, gooey, tasty goodness that is poutine!