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Poutine – Canada National Dish – Day 58/Dish 30

March 7, 2010

Note: Recently, British Columbia on Canada’s west coast was host for the 2010 Winter Olympics. A hearty congrats to each country and athlete who represented their prowess and to those who took home the gold, a special congratulations! This posting and recipe are dedicated to this fine group of athletes from around the world. And especially to Georgian Luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed in a pre contest training run crash right before the start of the Games. RIP.

Cameroon was an interesting look into the diversity of Africa. Our next country is one with almost bi-polar personality traits. It is a country with split ethnic identity and one of the largest nations on earth.

Canada is located in North America, north of The United States and is home to both Native tribes as well as European Colonialists from both French origin and British Isles origin. To get there from Cameroon we must sail across the Atlantic heading north till we enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence and reach land in New Brunswick. Our destination is Montreal, Quebec the home of our next recipe. To get there, we must sail westward on the mighty St. Lawrence river till we reach the beautiful metropolis of Montreal in the province of Quebec.

The cultural differences of French versus British Canada have caused regional tension throughout the provinces with an underlying threat of succession by Quebecois Canadians, although not as much in recent years. Le Quebecois’ represent the second largest ethnic group in Canada behind English Canadians and ahead of Scottish or Irish Canadians. The earliest French Canadians arrived in Canada in the 1600 and 1700’s to settle the New French territories of Eastern Canada and eventually parts of New England in the US. Notable amongst the Quebecois are Celine Dion and Jack Kerouac as well as many others.

Other parts of Canada were settled by the English, Scottish and Irish settlers who made Canada a territory of the crown. This website provides interesting insight into the life of early settlers in Canada’s broad frontiers and prairies. Many similarities to the settling of the United States exist in the story of Canada. Intrepid voyagers moved west to explore the riches of the North American Landmass while displacing the native peoples as they progressed.

Although there are over 3 million Native Americans in Canada and the US, tensions remain especially high in Canada where the Native Rights groups vie for legal position through the court system, in an attempt to reclaim the land they were dislocated from by the settlers. Recent settlements have been awarded to the First Nations, as they are called, that have created tension with European Canadians especially those in agricultural and resource sectors.

Canada is still technically ruled by Queen Elizabeth 2 of England. For all intents, Canada acts and is governed as an independent state, but is still technically a constitutional monarchy under the control of England. Most of the government is fashioned after England’s parliamentary system and the Queen is the basic ruler of this system.

The national dish of Canada is Poutine. Poutine is a mysterious recipe of French Canadian origin, specifically, Montreal, Quebec. Invariably when I mention eating Fries with Cheese curds and Gravy, people who have not eaten it get a funny look on their faces and make small noises of displeasure in their throats. Those that have had the pleasure of Poutine generally make small noises of desire and get a misty far off look in their eyes. It is not really surprising if you are among the latter group.

Poutine is quite possibly the perfect pub food. It ranks up there with Fried Pickles and Hard Boiled Pickled Eggs for complimenting a cold lager or ale. There are no health claims for this dish, except that it tastes too good to be healthy. In this case I recommend indulgence. You will not regret it.

A typical and traditional Poutine involves a series of individual parts that traditionalists swear must be just so. However since I live in the Southeastern US and cannot access the local supply of Montreal, I will be building my own components from scratch. I will list the recipes in the order that they should be made to time the assembly of the final dish for best results.

First off we have to procure FRESH cheese curds. Fresh curds will squeak on the teeth when eaten. When Little Miss Muffet sat on the Tuffet (whatever that is?) she ate homemade cheese in its own liquid. Curd is the part of the milk that contains the fat solids and is another way of saying cheese. Whey is the liquid in milk that we will extract to get the curds.

Making cheese can be a very simple procedure, like today’s recipe, or can involve weeks or months of careful sanitary chemistry designed to produce a variety of textures, flavors and degrees of funkiness depending on the style of cheese. The recipe below is simple, relatively quick and does not require enzymes or bacterial cultures. The end result is a tasty, soft cheese ball that can be broken down or crumbled onto your Poutine. A quick Google search will provide ample info on the more technical varieties of cheese that you can make at home.

I give this dish a 1-2 rating for difficulty. It is surprisingly easy to make and assemble the parts for Poutine. The end result is well worth the hassle.

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION

Rating:

Appearance: 4 out of 5

Aroma: 3 out of 5

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15

Components listed in order of preparation.

Cheese Curds Ingredients:

1 gallon 2% milk

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 tsp salt

Preparation:

1. Heat the milk to 190F. You will need a thermometer for other cheeses but you can get by here turning off the heat just before the milk begins to boil.

2. Add the vinegar and allow the mixture to cool. You will see the curds separate from the whey at this point.

3. When cool, pour the mixture, (which now consists of curds and whey as in Miss Muffet food) into a colander and drain off the whey through cheesecloth.  Tie the cheesecloth into a ball compressing the cheese in order to squeeze out the excess whey.  Allow to hang for about 3 hrs to drain and dry.  Tying the cheesecloth to a kitchen cabinet door handle with a bowl underneath will work nicely.

4. Cut open the cheesecloth and break the cheese into pieces or use a knife to cut it up. Pour the curds into a bowl and sprinkle on the salt and mix well. You may wish to use less salt or more. It is simply a matter of taste which is the next step. You can add a little cream for a silky texture.

The next step is the Fries. You can use a frozen bagged French fry if you want, but true Poutine uses hand cut fresh fries, generally using potatoes from Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Island is an agriculture center growing everything from Mussels and Oysters to our Potatoes, which are similar to an Idaho Spud. We will be substituting Russet Potatoes which produce a nice crispy and starchy end product since we cannot get the real thing.

Fries Ingredients:

4 medium Potatoes, washed and sliced into lengths about 1/8 inch in diameter and 2-4 inches in length.

2 quarts frying oil, peanut or vegetable oil

A large cast iron Dutch oven or Deep Fat Fryer

Salt

Preparation:

Cut the potatoes and soak the fries in cold water in a bowl for about ½ hour.

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven or fryer to 350-375F

Remove the fries from the water and pat them dry with paper towels

Add half the fries to the hot oil and fry for 8-12 minutes till they float and become golden brown.

Remove to a paper towel lined baking sheet, salt to taste, and place in a warm oven while cooking subsequent batches.

Add the second half of the fries to the oil and repeat the process.

Let the oil cool and strain it back into the original containers and freeze for subsequent use.

Makes about 2# fries.

The final step is the gravy. This gravy is actually a reduced Veloute or silky chicken gravy made with a roux of flour and butter with chicken stock. Add fresh chopped garlic for a delicious layer of flavor.

Veloute Ingredients:

4 tbsp Flour

1 stick butter

1 container of Chicken stock or broth approx 1 liter

3 cloves garlic finely chopped.

Preparation:

In a sauce pan, heat the butter till it melts.

Add the garlic and allow to cook for 1 minute.

In a small mixing bowl combine the flour with 1 cup of the stock.

Whisk till it is smooth.

Slowly combine with the simmering butter and garlic.

Whisk to get out any lumps.

Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes to darken the roux.

Add the remaining stock slowly while whisking till you have about 4 cups of gravy.

Simmer for 10 minutes.

Use a spoon to skim the “skin” that forms on the surface before each whisking.

Whisk regularly to maintain the consistency and avoid burning.

Allow the mixture to further reduce by simmering till it reaches the thickness you prefer.

Makes about 4 cups

POUTINE : 

To assemble the Poutine, place 1# of Fries on a plate.

Add about 1 cup of the cheese curd to the top of the fries.

Ladle the gravy over the top of the cheese and fries. Allow to sit for 2-3 minutes so the cheese and gravy begin to work together.

Serve immediately afterwards.

I highly recommend an ice cold Molson Canadian or Labatt’s Blue to complement the salty silky delicious Poutine. Bon Appetite and Vive Le Canada!

Cheese making: http://schmidling.com/making.htm

Other Sources: http://www.native-languages.org/kids.htm

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004498

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    March 7, 2010 2:21 pm

    I had the good luck to meet this food in person yesterday, and it was awesome. I was surprised that a fairly simple homemade cheese was pretty rich–maybe because of the gravy? But the dish was rich and potato-y, and salty and garlicky and wonderful. Great winter night dish.

  2. March 7, 2010 3:24 pm

    I saw them at Place de la Francophonie in Vancouver last weekend, but did not have a chance to try :-). Thanks for the recipe – going straight to my to do list!

  3. Jihad permalink
    March 8, 2010 8:31 am

    Really lovely snack! I am not a gravy person, but the combination of all the ingredients – especially the fresh homemade cheese was AMAZING!!

  4. March 10, 2010 3:10 pm

    Eric, how long did it take to make all the parts come together? I live in Canada as you know, and I never realized that poutine isn’t terribly hard to make (of course, you make it look easy).

    • March 10, 2010 3:44 pm

      Hi Frances,

      Making the cheese was the longest part at about 3.5 hrs if you count the 3 hrs of drying. I made the fries and gravy with about 45 minutes left to go on the cheese. I had everything up and ready as the fries came out of the pot. The veloute only takes about 5-10 minutes to build and cook.

      I started the cheese right after lunch and prepared the fries right before dinner. Seemed to work well =)

  5. March 10, 2010 4:17 pm

    I remember being served this dish at a party for our French class when we visited Montreal on a school exchange field trip … WAY BACK in the 70’s! We thought it strange to have gravy and cheese with ‘frites’, but gobbled them right up!

  6. March 10, 2010 10:04 pm

    Hi Eric! I had to forward this to my little brother — he attended McGill in Montreal and of course, fell head over heels with Poutine! I think there is finally a place for him to get some in NYC, but to make it at home, who would have thought it was so involved!

  7. Jean-Sebastien permalink
    September 17, 2010 8:37 pm

    I’m French Canadian, googling “Poutine” to see why the heck it’s called the “Canada’s National Dish”, seeing as I never saw a Poutine done right anywhere outside of Quebec. Calling it “Canadian” is like calling Cajun cooking the National American Cooking.

    And then I see your blog, with HOMEMADE CURD CHEESE?!? Wow… I’m really, really taken aback. I had homemade curds only once, despite eating Poutines every other weeks of my life.

    I’m impressed.

    No one makes their own curd cheese here BTW, it’s readily available everywhere in the Province (FYI : you recognize the “fresh” curd by the noise it makes on your teeth when eating it). I’m pretty certain that I’ll make a killing if I ever do it manually.

    • September 19, 2010 7:59 pm

      Hi Jean-Sebastien, Bon Jour….

      I got several good chuckles reading your comment and I appreciate you stopping by! The Poutine was fantastic. I grew up near the Canadian border in NY state so we had versions of Poutine where I lived. None came close to the delicious recipe I made this day though. The cheese was so fresh and the flavors of the fresh cut fries and gravy were huge! I admit this is still my favorite national dish to date. Guilty pleasures perhaps because this is not a healthy dish…Oh well, what is life for if not to indulge occasionally.

      Glad for your local perspective on the dish as it is always hard to tell if I got it right. It would seem so , but you will need to cook the recipe and let me know what you think.

      Cheers,
      Eric

  8. John A Macdonald permalink
    March 12, 2011 11:12 pm

    “Canada is still technically ruled by Queen Elizabeth 2 of England. For all intents, Canada acts and is governed as an independent state, but is still technically a constitutional monarchy under the control of England. Most of the government is fashioned after England’s parliamentary system and the Queen is the basic ruler of this system.”

    This is wrong, and some basic Google work would have told you so. The Queen of England is not the same as the Queen of Canada; they are separate thrones which currently have a shared succession. Should England decide to abolish the monarchy tomorrow, the monarchy in Canada remains. England – more accurately, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – has no control over Canadian affairs at all.

    The Queen is also not the ‘basic ruler’ of the Canadian legal system. There’s this thing called Crown in Parliament, but I’ll let you learn about that on your own. By the by, England’s parliamentary system – the Westminster system – is the basis for the vast majority of western democratic systems, including that of the USA. Please don’t live up to the stereotype of the ignorant American.

    • March 13, 2011 8:08 pm

      Hello John,

      I tried emailing you rather than replying on my blog, but you left me a fake email address. I would have enjoyed being able to reach out to you and in so doing learn more about a country I also love (having spent much time in Canada). I appreciate your clarifying the issue of the throne in Canada. I found this interesting. My Google search did not turn this up so it is nice to have someone who knows point it out.

      BTW I spend several days on each of these postings but as I point out several times in my blog I do make errors and overlook things. This is a labor of love and something that most people will never attempt. You should bear that in mind when reading my blog.

      I have to tell you that the “Please don’t live up to the stereotype of the ignorant American.” comment was uncalled for and off the point. I don’t know you and you don’t know me.
      If I came into your house and said something similar, you would be rightfully offended. Bear in mind that in showing me your knowledge (which I appreciated) you also showed me some of your ignorance (which I did not).

      I appreciate your clarifications and wish you a good day.

      Regards,

      Eric Ackerson

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