Honestly, I wish we had the weather like today back on Tuesday, June 24th, so our Saint Jean Baptiste celebration wouldn’t got screwed. It was nerve-wrecking watching all that rain pouring cats and dogs on those masterfully constructed bonfire-to-be structures that finally never took off – a real bummer… A comforting traditional supper was the only way to save the holiday. Fortunately, in the food-haven city of Montreal there’s always plenty to choose from to celebrate. We opted for a home-made good old Poutine among others, one of the great French Canadian creations that put Canada on the world’s culinary map. A mountain of freshly cooked French fries smothered in gravy and cheese, which you can top with unlimited number of your own favorites, from Italian sausage, to magret de canard, to umami anchovies to make that simply irresistible caloric bomb and save the day…
Poutine is a true culinary oxymoron: a greasy, salty, heavenly-tasting convict of the premeditated gluttony, it is a real fast food junk on one side – but a valuable haute cuisine material on the other. Take the glorious creations of Poutine Foie Gras by Chef Martin Picard or Lobster Poutine by Chef Chuck Hughes, for example: each made an instant hit at their restaurants, respectively, long time ago each doesn’t seem to slide off the menu any time soon.
Since the time of its inception in the 50s, Poutine has been a subject of a lot of grotesque stories
that don’t seem to end, but all that jazz only reinforces its popularity.
Everybody likes crispy fries and squeaky curd cheese. Almost everybody likes gravy. Combined together in Poutine, they make a one huge memorable feast you won’t forget soon. My recently discovered trick was to use other kind of cheese in the absence of the curd cheese that is not always available. Guess what, apart from the missing squeakiness the dish works quite well with simple Mozzarella or Cheddar, or even Feta, and, especially well, with savory cheeses like Gouda or Gruyere. Of course if you are by-the-book rigid with recipes chef, I suggest you stick to the curd cheese and disregard this post completely.
Another affordable adjustment is using the store-bought Poutine gravy, or make it from the store-bought organic beef stock (in the absence of one) by adding some flour (or corn meal in gluten free cases), Worcester sauce, butter.
For the camping purposes, feel free to use the non-perishable cubed or powdered beef stock.
As you can see from the images, making fries at home and turning them into Poutine is a no brainer. One big killer app for successful and faster cooked pan-fried or roasted potatoes I’ve been using for years: boiling potatoes in the water for exactly 4 minutes uncovered (for the rustic chunks), 3 minutes for French cuts, 2 minutes for shoestrings; draining them and shaking carefully with canola or sunflower oil before pan-frying or roasting. Always delivers the best results! Another good tip: always use baking potatoes, such as Idaho or Yukon for fries or roasted potatoes; they are the highest in starch and therefore deliver the best results for the crispy on top, light and fluffy inside fries.
OK, this little fresh oregano leaf might be the only healthy thing on the plate, but Poutine takes no prisoners: there won’t be a drop left within a few minutes. And here is a fun fact: no matter how full of salt and fat Poutine is, Monsieur Putin is still much more dangerous.
There are many ways to enjoy Poutine at home or elsewhere in Montreal or Quebec in general.
|Image via Wikimedia
Here are my 10 WAYS TO ENJOY POUTINE in Montreal, or Quebec in general.
2. Upscale yourself to one of those haute Poutine places
like Au Pied de Cochon
or Garde Manger
3. Go North for the world’s best poutine experience at the hidden gem, little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, where they top their poutine with the mountain of their own produced squeaky cheese and lace it with variety of savory gravies at Fromagerie Perron poutine buffet.
4. If in a hurry and/or on a strict budget, try no frills places like La Belle Province, Valentine or similar local fast-food corners for a soggy to my taste, but an acceptable alternative.When desperate, pressed with time or transport constraints, try the convenience store (depanneur), McDonald or Burger King variety for an ersatz of Poutine.
5. Buy some ready-made French fries, curd cheese and gravy and assemble the dish yourself at home for a quick TV dinner.
6. DIY your own Poutine at home from scratch(see the above paragraphs).
7. In winter or fall (and for weird people like me), enjoy the Poutine served in the movie theater in the comfort of the darkness, big screen and loud noises. Don’t take me wrong though, I would never have it offered in a blind restaurant for the fear of any organic extra added to the dish (roaches, rodents, spit, etc.) no matter how attractive the idea of enhancing your senses in the dark is.
8. My summertime favorite: hit the road and explore the casse-croûtes spots in Quebec countryside, the real place of Poutine origin.
Go North, South or East of Montreal during summer and stop here and there at the tiny casse-croûtes along the road while enjoying the breathtaking landscapes, farms, and nature. For me it’s like time traveling to a long forgotten past and going to the places that were just called a ‘Bar’ or a ‘Restaurant’, like these ones, so locals or hungry travelers can navigate themselves in with ease.
|French workers having casse-croûte lunch via Wikimedia
In case you don’t know what the casse-croûtes is, the word itself in French literally means breaking the crust or (in some dictionaries) a crust-cracker tool used to crush the crust of bread for (here goes an interesting trivia) the old people who would have lost their teeth. Eventually, around the end of the 18th century, the casse-croûte began to signify a quick lunch the workers or travelers had and generally started to represent a simple meal or a sandwich. In Quebec, this French term got used to signify the fast food places around 50-s and coincided with the Poutine creation.
9. Enjoy the Poutine take out from one of the above places in the great outdoors, like on a picnic in the park, fishing or biking trip.
10. Finally, my all-time favorite – the CAMPSITE POUTINE! What a wonderful experience – nobody can pass on it. After a long day of hiking in a murky deep forest, there is nothing better than sitting around the fire telling stories and making Poutine with friends.
Once you heat those charcoals and put the frying pan on with a bunch of sizzling potatoes, the whole process becomes a life of a party. The wood coal fire infuses the fries with that one of a kind smokiness you can especially appreciate in the fresh and cool forest air. Use the store-bought frozen fries or the above described technique for making fries from scratch.
Nothing is left in the bowls no matter how hard you try to leave some – the ooey-gooey camping Poutine will conquer your heart fast and easy. For some reason it never gives me the heartburn either, even the one made with store-bought fries and canned gravy (non-perishables are always better for the camping trips). And did I mention to you that it’s gluten free? Awesome…
Wow, that’s a longest post I’ve written so far – thank you for your patience and I hope you will find some of the above useful and practical.
Lots of sunshine and happy long week-end celebration, cooking, hiking, fishing and paddling to all the lucky campers and others!
CAMPSITE POUTINE (which you can also make at home)
For 2 people (for more, increase the amount accordingly)
2 big Idaho or Yukon potatoes cut in rustic chunks, parboiled, or store-bought frozen
½ cup (3.5 oz or 100g) curd (or other cubed) cheese
2 tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Pinch of dried rosemary
For Gravy: use the store bought canned Poutine Gravy, or DIY (follows)
1 cup organic beef stock (or re-constituted beef stock from powder for the fast version)
1 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tbsp flour (or corn meal for gluten free version)
1 tsp Worcester sauce
Parboil the potatoes for 4 minutes uncovered (skip this step if using frozen potatoes). Drain the potatoes, add 2 tablespoons of oil, pinch of dried rosemary and give it a gentle shake to cover the potatoes with oil evenly.
While potatoes are boiling, prepare the gravy by mixing butter and flour (or corn meal) in a hot saucepan and whisking in the stock and Worcester sauce 2 minutes on a low-heat until it thickens.
Prepare the grill for a high heat or the skillet for the stove high heat.
Prepare the curd or other cheese and set aside.
Heat oil in a large cast iron camping skillet set directly on grate. Add potatoes. Cook turning carefully until browned, for about 7-10 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet from the grill/stove and distribute the potatoes in two plates. Top with cheese and cover with the hot gravy. Serve immediately with or without your favorite topping.