Last Thursday, as my friends and I chatted excitedly about our girls’ weekend in Montreal, our discussion turned to food, specifically what and where we were looking forward to dining. On Judy’s list was a recommendation from a work colleague that she should not miss poutine.
Poutine, pronounced put-in, a local favorite, was created in rural Quebec in the 1950s. Once only available in the province, it has made its way across Canada and to as far away as the UK.
I doubt I’d had poutine and when Judy explained that it was fries covered with cubed cheese curds and gravy, I knew for sure that I hadn’t – I would have remembered cheese curd. We had our first opportunity to try poutine at lunch on Friday.
As the waiter approached, Judy’s eyes locked on and followed the dish until he placed it on the table. Right away, her face changed from excited anticipation to disappointment. This poutine didn’t have the cheese curds her colleague had mentioned.
“This isn’t authentic,” she grumbled but she didn’t let that stop her. She dug in immediately and pronounced her first taste “good.”
“Have some,” she urged. I looked on skeptically. I would have preferred fries with gravy, which I used to love when I was at university, or even plain fries, but fries with cheese curd just didn’t appeal to me.
I searched the plate for a few fries that hadn’t been touched by either cheese or gravy. They were fine. But even though this poutine didn’t have cheese curds, I wondered whether I had let my dislike for them keep me from enjoying a good dish.
- 4 lb. russet potatoes, skin-on, washed and dried
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 cups beef stock
- 2 tbsp. ketchup
- 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp. whole green peppercorns
- ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Canola oil, for frying
- 2 cups cheddar cheese curds
- Cut potatoes into lengths of about ¼" x ¼" x 4". Place in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, heat butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and garlic, and cook, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add stock, ketchup, vinegar, peppercorns, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep gravy warm.
- Pour oil to a depth of 3" in a 6-qt. Dutch oven, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Drain potatoes, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Working in small batches, add potatoes and fry, tossing occasionally, until tender and slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
- Drain on paper towels, and let cool for 20 minutes. Increase temperature to medium-high, and heat oil until it reads 375°. Working in small batches, return potatoes to oil, and fry, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer fries to paper towels to drain briefly, and then divide among serving bowls. Pour gravy over each serving of fries, and top with cheese curds; serve immediately.
We spent the next day looking for poutine and each time we saw it on a menu, Judy would ask if it had cheese curds. She refused to have it without the curd. It’s not authentic, she’d say. She agreed finally, that poutine with melted cheese could probably be just as good as that with cheese curd but we had no basis for comparison. She also decided that next time someone recommended a local favorite, that she’d ask where to find it.
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