There are plenty of contributions to thank our Great Northern neighbor for — ice hockey, standard time, canola oil, the McIntosh Apple — but none as great as poutine (poo-teen). Yes this deep-fried, gravy-smothered, cheesy French fry concoction is a Canadian classic that makes chili fries look like child’s play.This dish of fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds wasn’t so much invented as it evolved from its humble beginnings in a small dairy-farming town in Quebec in 1957. Legend has it that restaurateur Fernand Lachance was asked by a customer to combine French fries and cheese curds in a bag for convenience one night at his restaurant. When he looked in the bag and saw the hot fries had melted the cheese curds he declared the sight a “poutine” — slang for a “mess.”
The third and final ingredient in this heavenly concoction, gravy, was added in 1964 by Jean-Paul Roy at his restaurant in Drummondville, Quebec. He noticed customers ordering cheese curds along with gravy and a side of fries; being an astute man, he decided to add the customer-created concoction to his menu.
Today, poutine, as is the will of the hosers, is ubiquitous throughout Quebec, even being sold at fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King in Canada.
So what makes the perfect poutine? Obviously, a balance of the key ingredient trinity, but let’s break it down further:
You need fresh, soft, mildly tangy curds for the perfect poutine. This may require some searching since cheese curds haven’t caught on quite as much in the U.S. as they have in the Great North. The perfect curds will squeak when you bite into them indicating that they are fresh. You can always go the route of swapping curds for shredded Cheddar, but just know that you are making the New Jersey favorite Disco Fries — definitely not poutine — but still delicious in its own right. Here are some cheese curd sources we are liking: West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, Stoltzfus Family Dairy, and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.
Crispy fries are key to the success of your poutine dish because of all the soggy cheese and gravy that will be poured on top of them. For an end result of crispy exterior and soft interior, use the double fry method. The second trick, rinse your cut potatoes before frying to remove the starch. This will keep your fries from becoming too dark too quickly when frying. For more tips, check out our French fry guide for home cooks here.
A smooth, rich, brown, beef-stock gravy is the real flavor-maker in this dish. If you want, you can go all out making the stock from scratch by roasting beef bones, sautéing a mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery, and then adding bouquet garni (peppercorns, parsley, bay leaf) before covering with water and/or chicken stock and simmering for at least three hours to bring out all the flavors. Then, strain and whisk your rich, beef-scented stock with a butter and flour roux to make thick, smooth gravy topping for your crispy French fries. Check out our gravy-making tips here.