Sunday, 18 January 2015

Quebec - How I made Poutine

It's surprising in many ways that poutine has become the dish that's most associated with Quebec. Indeed, when I was looking at the different options of things I could make to represent Quebec, I kept coming across poutine again and again.

Despite its historical connections to France, food in Quebec seems to be fairly 'down-to-earth' and, in many ways, poutine encapsulates the different traditions of Quebec. It's also versatile enough to lend itself to other culinary traditions and these days you can get all kinds of poutines with Greek, Italian and TexMex flavours. I actually tried a real poutine when I was in Quebec, at Rimouski bus station - my poutine was Italian-style with a Bolognaise sauce.
My first experience of poutine at Rimouski bus station

With dubious origins as a 1950's late-night snack to accompany beer, poutine is now gaining a reputation as good hangover food and, if this Guardian article is to believed, Quebecois poutine is poised to take over the world!

Posh chips and gravy?  Perhaps.  All I know is that it's one of the least healthiest dishes I've made for this blog and I can only describe it as a real carb attack.  Tasty though, in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Not to mention, easy-to-make.

The ingredients

I looked at lots of different recipes when researching for this blog post, then made up my own recipe based on what I could remember and what I could get my hands on. The hardest ingredient to find was cheese curds and, unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on any, but substituted with paneer, an Indian cheese which has a similar consistancy.  Anyway, here are the ingredients I used to make my poutine.

Ingredients for Quebecois poutine
5/6 baking potatoes
Unsalted butter
1 onion
1 garlic clove
Worcestershire sauce
Cider vinegar
1 cup beef stock
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup flour
Pork lardons

How I made Poutine

Preparation of poutine started with the potatoes, which I peeled, then sliced into chips and immersed in a bowl full of water. I then put these in the fridge for a couple of hours before coming back to finish the preparations for this dish.

I usually prepare all of the ingredients before starting to cook

The next step I took was to fry the pork lardons. To be honest, I could have done this at the end, but I thought I would be too busy with the chips and gravy, so it would be good to have one less thing to worry about.

The main challenge with poutine is timing it, so the all of the ingredients, except the cheese, are hot when they arrive on the plate.

Most traditional poutine recipes are vegetarian, but I decided to add some meat, as I wanted to have something in there that wasn't purely carbs! In a way, lardons are quite French, so I guess I was gallicising this otherwise very North American dish.

Fry the pork lardons

My next step was to prepare the gravy, which I did by first frying the onion and garlic, then adding Worcestershire sauce and Cider vinegar. I went a bit mad on the old vinegar which I wouldn't recommend as it influences the taste of the gravy. Once the onions had softened a bit, I added the beef and vegetable stock and let whole thing come to the boil.

Fry the onion and garlic in Worcestershire sauce and cider vinegar

Once the mixture had cooked for a bit (about fifteen minutes), I took them off the heat and strained the liquid into a bowl, discarding the onions. I'm not a great believer in discarding food, but I wanted to stick to the original idea of poutine. If I were making it again, however, I'd probably keep the onions and garlic in the gravy.

Strain the mixture, discarding the onions and garlic

Using the same pot, I added the butter, letting it melt before stirring in the flour. This made a kind of batter, known as a roux. Before the roux fried too much, I started stirring in the rest of the gravy mixture and whisk it, until the roux dissolved completely, thickening the gravy/sauce.

Melt the butter

Add flour to the melted butter

Mix the flour and butter to make a roux

Stir in the onion/stock mixture and whisk to make a yummy grave which looks like butterscotch

Next I deep-fat fried the potato chips, by heating half a pot of vegetable oil and putting the chips into the oil in batches. I've always wondered how to get crispy chips and now I know - you need to deep-fat fry them, drain the oil off on paper, let them cool and then fry them a second time. It's the first time I've done this and the second frying made my chips really crispy!

I was a bit disorganised in general and had no kitchen paper to drain the chips, so I resorted to good old newspaper, which is actually great at soaking up the oil - I'd recommend it, better than paper towels!

'White' chips after first deep-fat fry

Greasy spoon on newspaper

Brown chips after second deep-fat fry

Once the chips had browned, I transferred them to a plate, adding the pork lardons (cold by now, but that didn't really matter). I then took the squares of paneer out of the fridge and sprinkled these on top, before pouring over the gravy. The key to a good poutine, I guess is thin gravy, so it seeps down through the cheese and chips and also chilled cheese, so it doesn't melt immediately, but retains a rubbery consistency when the gravy is poured over the top.


Chips + lardons

Chips + lardons + cheese

Chips + lardons + cheese + gravy = poutine

The gravy was yummy - I was a bit worried about the colour, but more than one recipe stated that it should look like butterscotch, so I guess my gravy was fine. It certainly tasted good - a warm and filling dish on a cold winter's day!

Quebecois poutine

Image credits:

All images were taken by me on my trusty Canon EOS 1100D.  Feel free to re-use these images with the Creative commons license:

- Attribution (especially to this blog post)
- Non-commercial
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