I Left My Heart in Poutineville

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.

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños at Poutineville in Quebec City

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.

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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.

Digging in at Montreal Poutine

Digging in at Montreal Poutine

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.)

Willa back home with Dad's homemade poutine

Willa back home with Dad’s homemade poutine

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?

Enjoy!

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Poutine
serves 4

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.

 

Shortcuts

I’m one of those fancy chefs who serves small portions, treats the plate like a canvas and uses flowers and ingredients you’ve never heard of. But I’m also a fan of shortcuts.

Many of the world’s best chefs will readily admit to resorting to shortcuts when they’re cooking.

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While we were staying at the Casa Tres Coronitas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last October, I asked the house chef, Marilu, to show me how to make her famous salsa. She was giving me a lesson and it was nothing out of the ordinary — tomatillos, onion, garlic, chiles de arbol, salt. And then she reached into the cupboard to pull out her “secret ingredient” — Knorr powdered chicken bouillon. Sure enough, when I tried it at home (with the bag of Knorr powdered chicken bouillon Marilu picked up for me at the supermercado), it contributed a salty umami depth that was missing before I added it. Couldn’t have been the MSG, could it?? More

The Rut

Even the best cooks get into ruts.

Tomato saffron scampi with polenta and sautéed Tuscan kale

Tomato saffron scampi with polenta and sautéed Tuscan kale

For all the diversity in my weekly menus, I often find myself bored with my cooking. What sounds like an unimaginably exciting and exotic week of dinners to most — for example:  Venetian cecchiti with hand-tossed pizza on Monday, sushi and tempura on Tuesday, Wednesday queso fundido and Mexico City-style tacos, Thursday tea-smoked duck and lo mien, and so on — can seem like “same old, same old” to me. More

It’s Not Easy Being Green

My wife recently asked me to pick up some wasabi peas for her. Or more precisely, she said, “Put wasabi peas on your list.”

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

My list, of course, is the running grocery list I have going at all times. It’s a square post-it note that sits on my desk and which everyone knows not to touch lest the provisions and dining schedule be thrown into chaos. My list will usually have several categories: “Japanese market,” “TJs” (Trader Joe’s), “Grocery” (general), “Sprouts,” and sometimes the odd addition such as “Persian market” or “99 Ranch”. Lacking specificity, I put my wife’s request under “TJs”. More

People of the Wolf Fish

Here’s what happened:

I was strolling through the aisles at Trader Joe’s, thinking about a meal I was making for some clients of ours. Being that they were vaguely yogic people and I didn’t want to send them into a premature savasana pose by serving them something that had once been living — other than fish, that is, which somehow doesn’t count as having lived in those circles — I decided to do an all seafood dinner.

Norwegian wolf fish

Norwegian wolf fish

So as I browsed the frozen fish aisle look for something inspiring, dark spots caught my eye — Norwegian wolf fish, a species I had never seen nor even heard of before. And I’m a sucker for new stuff. More

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