It began with our first meal in Quebec City at a joint across the street from the loft where we were staying called Poutineville — our love affair with the uniquely French Canadian comfort food called poutine.
I had heard about poutine and read more about it while researching for our trip — it is, in its simplest form, french fries, gravy and cheese curds. As you travel through eastern Canada, you will see all manners of creative and — in some cases — obscene variations.
At Poutineville, they hand you a menu and pencil — something like the paper list they give you at a sushi bar — from which you can check off what you would like from a variety of toppings, different gravies, and potato variations. Or you can choose one of the house specialties such as poutinachos, Philly cheese steak poutine, shepherd’s pie poutine, BLT poutine and so forth. For my first-ever poutine, I chose smoked meat — another Quebecois specialty — jalapeños, grilled onions and “smashed” potatoes. It was a winning combination. And Leslie liked hers even more.
While in Maine, I had made it my mission to try as many lobster rolls as I could. And now, Leslie had given herself a similar challenge with poutine while in French Canada.
I found poutine Ruffles chips at the local grocery store, which would see us through between poutine meals and on the drive from Quebec City to Montreal.
Poutineville is a franchise that began, apparently, in Montreal. We had considered looking for a location in Montreal, but there was poutine on nearly every menu. And we found a place we liked called Montreal Poutine, located in the interior courtyard of an ancient stone building in the charming old port area. We would eat several meals there, including a poutine-and-beer breakfast the day we left Montreal.
So overwhelmed and entranced were we by the waiter’s “specials of the day” monologue at Au Pied de Cochon that we didn’t try their famous foie gras poutine. I would recreate my own version of the dish, however, for my pal Donnie’s birthday party — one of the four or five poutines I’ve made so far at home in the few weeks we’ve been back.
I had my first opportunity to make a poutine of my own a few days later at the Buck Camp in the Adirondacks. It takes a bit of background explanation before you serve an elegant dinner party french fries with gravy, and a bit of diligence to keep your pal Jon from eating all the fries before they’ve been poutined. But the effort, which included bacon, wild mushrooms foraged on the property and homemade stock, was a resounding success.
I have yet to try my own version with the smashed potatoes I experienced at Poutineville, which adds something of a gourmet touch to this comfort food. I’ve found that the frozen “handsome cut fries” at Trader Joe’s are the perfect canvas, but any frozen fry will work. (I saw along the poutine trail but never tried versions made with sweet potato fries.)
Here, then, is my basic poutine recipe (with the luxurious and delicious addition of truffle oil). Think of it as a launch point for your own poutine explorations, and add whatever condiments, accoutrements and accents you feel inspired to. You could even make your own french fries, but why bother?
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1 24-oz bag of fries
1 cup good-quality beef stock
1 cup good-quality chicken stock
1/4 cup red wine
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. white truffle oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup cheddar cheese curds
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Heat fries in oven according to directions.
While fries are cooking, melt 1 tbsp. butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add beef and chicken stocks and bring to a strong simmer. Cook for 20 or 30 minutes, until reduced by a third to a half.
While stock is simmering, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onion and fry, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, until translucent and golden. Remove from heat.
Mix flour with 1/4 cup water to a smooth paste. Stir into broth and continue simmering until a thick gravy has formed. Turn off heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter and white truffle oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide fries between four plates. Spoon a generous bit of gravy over the top, and sprinkle with cheese curds. (You can give the plates a minute or two in a warm oven, if you’d like, to melt the curds a little.) Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.