Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homemade Poutine

Poutine is a dish that is unfamiliar to most Americans. It originated in Quebec as a distinctive way of eating French Fries. It is so popular in some parts of Canada that places like McDonald's and Burger King have it on their regional menus. In reality, it is a fairly simple construction: french fries + cheese curds + brown gravy. The genius is in the combination of these simple ingredients. Putting this together at home is fairly easy, and it is well worth it (nothing beats homemade fries!). Below is my recipe.

As I said, this recipe has 3 components. Let's start with the cheese curds. These can be bought in some grocery stores and in most specialty delis. Many people have never come across this ingredient. It's actually nothing fancy: when milk is first separated solid and liquid components by addition of enzymes in cheesemaking, the solids are the curds. When drained of moisture, these are cheese curds. For regular cheese, these curds are pressed and aged to give a more refined texture and shape. Curds maintain a somewhat rubbery texture and irregular shape. If you cant find them, just use some chunks of sharp cheddar (not a super aged cheddar though, as the flavor of curds is not that sharp).

On to the gravy. Many people have a favorite recipe for making brown gravy. I encourage you to use that recipe. However, here is my recipe for those interested: I start with 2 tbsp of butter, and melt in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted and hot, I add 3 shallots and 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or minced.

Once the shallots are softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes, I add 2 tbsp of AP flour. This will form a paste-like roux. Let this roux cook for at least 5 minutes to develop flavor and eliminate the raw flour aroma. At this point, add 1.5 cups of beef stock, whisking as you stream the liquid in. When it comes to a boil, the mixture will begin to thicken fairly quickly. You can adjust consistency by adding more stock if desired. Season with salt and lot of fresh cracked pepper. Voila, beautiful, garlicky brown gravy. The gravy can be reserved until the fries are ready, and it can be prepared in advance and re-heated as well.

For making fries, I like to use Yukon Gold Potatoes over the starchy brown potatoes. They tend to crisp up faster and have a better internal consistency. I start by cutting the potatoes to shape and immediately putting them in cold water to prevent browning. I let them sit in cold water for at least 2 hours. This removes surface starches and allows better crisping. After the soak, rinse them off with cold water and drain well. I like to use some paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

Double-frying is the popular method these days, and I use that strategy too. For the first fry, I put my pot of peanut oil on medium heat and let it come to temperature (about 325 degrees). As the fries go through the frying process, you will need to modulate the burner to keep oil temperature stable (the fries cool the oil). Cook for about 8 minutes with Yukon Golds to get a fully cooked interior that is still pale and not crisped on the outside:

Once all batches of fries are done, turn the heat up and get the oil above 350 degrees. The temperature for the second fry is not as important, but if it is too hot, your fries may burn very quickly (Hint: if the oil starts to smoke, it is too hot, and you should remove it from the burner and let it cool a bit). For the second fry 1-2 minutes is all that is necessary. The result should be a crispy and slightly darker than golden brown fry (Yukon Golds will brown more than brown potatoes without burning):

While the fries are still hot, dump some cheese curds on top and season with salt and pepper (and maybe some chopped chives if you'd like). The curds will melt a little bit but not completely lose shape.

Finish it off with your delicious gravy, and you have now made poutine, the ultimate French Canadian comfort food! Savor!


  1. Sounds interesting. Somehow, I would not have thought cheese curds was a good combo with fries. have to try it.

  2. I'm 100% baffled that cheese curds are not easily available in the US. They were a staple in my home growing up in Canada! My mom just brought me cheese curds from Canada, so I'm going to make my homemade poutine today. :D

  3. Homemade is the best!

    In terms of cheese curd availability, it probably really depends on where you are in the country (I'm sure in Vermont, and the really northern parts, it's readily available). Luckily, our grocery chain in Ithaca (Wegman's) tends to have an above average selection of items. All I know is that most of my friends are puzzled when I say "poutine," so I'm doing my best to spread the word!

  4. Curds are everywhere in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

  5. We had poutine while in Ottawa visiting my sister! I admit I was skeptical, but it was SO good!!! We are going to use your recipe to make some here in Ohio.