Canadian classic: Poutine is comfort food, Canadian style

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

Time sure flies, doesn’t it? Until last week, it had been more than three years since my last trip to Montreal. And it’s only about as far from Rutland as is Boston — which is not far at all.

If you haven’t been, or haven’t been in some time, Montreal really is worth exploring over a long-weekend getaway. The American dollar is still stronger than the Canadian, there are countless sights to see, and there are a surprising number of low-priced Airbnbs available throughout the city. Grab a two- or three-day pass, called the MTL Passeport, and you can see a couple dozen of the most popular attractions with public transportation included, for much less than paying everything individually. A trip to Montreal doesn’t have to break the bank.

I wrote about my favorite stops the last time I visited Montreal. You can look that piece up at rutlandreader.com. But I do want to mention a few additions. First, this time of year the botanical garden has a garden of light show in the evenings, where the Chinese, Japanese and First Nation outdoor gardens are filled with dragons, cranes and other creatures made out of colorful lanterns. It’s worth strolling through. Second, for some of the best views of the city, head to the observation deck at Au Sommet Place Ville Marie. You can also learn about various aspects of life in Montreal while you’re there. And third, while I visited many of my favorite spots to eat that I previously mentioned, Menthe Poivree, a small French restaurant off the beaten path on Rosemont Boulevard, is wonderful, reasonably priced, and the kind of quiet place where you can enjoy a pleasant French dinner.

Poutine is a common dish found throughout Quebec and much of Canada. Made up of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, it sounds more like messy takeout leftovers than a notable national dish. I have to say, it didn’t sound all that appetizing when I saw it throughout Montreal on my first visit some years ago. Yet, you’ll find it on menus throughout the city, or even shops that are dedicated to nothing but poutine. The most notable, Poutine La Banquise, open 24 hours, typically has a line out the front door.

There’s something about the combination of crispy fries, squeaky cheese and warm gravy that just works. Maybe it’s a sense of greasy comfort? Whatever it is, I couldn’t wait to try making my own when I was back home.

In this recipe, I baked the fries to ease up on the grease factor. I doubted that I’d end up with decent fries, but thanks to the technique from “The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook,” where you soak the potatoes and bake at high heat, they turned out excellent. Seriously. This is the only oven-baked fry recipe I’ll be using from now on.

Good cheese curds are important, and fortunately, we can find good ones made locally from Maple Brook Farm in Bennington that are available for sale at the Rutland Co-op. Though I am sure there are other Vermont cheese curds out there. They’re simply solid pieces of milk that have curdled during the cheesemaking process. In poutine, they should be slightly melted, but still kind of squeaky when you bite into them.

As for the gravy, it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. But most recipes I saw included both chicken and beef for a balance of flavor. From my poutine experience, I’d say it should be somewhat light in color and consistency.

Poutine can be a meal in itself, especially if you add additional toppings such as meat or vegetables. Or share a plate with friends as an appetizer.

Poutine
Serves 3 – 4 as an appetizer

For the fries:

  • 3 tablespoons high-heat oil, such as peanut or grapeseed
  • 2 ¼ pounds potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper

For the gravy:

  • 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup cheese curds
  • Chives, chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a baking mat or parchment paper and spread 1 tablespoon of the oil evenly across the sheet. Peel the potatoes, slice them, then cut them into thin fry-sized strips of about equal size. Place the fries into a bowl of hot water and let sit for 10 minutes.

Drain the fries and place them onto a second baking sheet lined with a few layers of paper towels. Pat dry. Wipe out the bowl and add the fries back in. Toss the fries with 2 tablespoons of oil, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Spread the fries out in a single layer on the baking sheet, then tightly cover with foil. Place the baking sheet into the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake 5 more minutes before using a metal spatula to flip the fries over. Bake about 10 minutes longer or until browned and crispy. When done, remove the fries from the oven and empty onto the second baking sheet lined with fresh paper towels to absorb excess oil.

To make the gravy, stir together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat and when melted, add the flour and gently cook until golden brown. Be careful not to burn. Add the broth, cornstarch slurry, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Allow to simmer for at least 5 minutes or until thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning as you like. Keep warm until the fries are ready.

To assemble: place the fries onto your serving plate, sprinkle with the cheese curds, pour over gravy (to your liking), and top with the chives. Serve hot.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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