Homemade Poutine: One Woman’s Obsessive Culinary Quest
So this video went viral recently. All it shows is a closed bathroom door. Inside the bathroom is a kid about 3 years old, who is essentially narrating the process he’s in and mourning the amount of food he ate that brought him to this place. The list is long. As it goes on, the camera starts to shake, and you can hear the muffled, commiserating laughter of the kid’s mom.
If you’re a mom, pee before you watch this, if only from the fact that he still says “toy-yet.” If you’re not, well — trust me, you’d find this funny if you were.
“Apple. Poutine. Cheesestring. Pickle chips. Peanut butter and raisins. Ugh! Everything! Chocolate things. Chocolate thingies. More chocolate thingies. Gummies. Ugh!”
Within the space of maybe 3 days, this video showed up in my Facebook feed approximately nine billion times, and each time, the accompanying update asked “What the heck is poutine?”
Rumors swirled that it was something involving French fries, gravy and cheese, and that it was a favorite staple of late-night Quebecois cuisine. I don’t know why, but I became absolutely obsessed with discovering the wonders of poutine. As it happens, I had just made a new neighborhood friend named Sophie, and I knew, from the fact that she referred to her mom as “mum,” that she was Canadian. When I asked her about poutine, she said, “Oh, we love poutine!” and the way she pronounced it — poo-TIN-nuh — was so adorable, I knew I had to unlock its secrets and add this dish to my ate-that list.
The first thing to do was find cheese curds. Yes, cheese curds. These are not the same as cottage cheese; they are the secret link between milk and the aged cheese, most typically cheddar, that you get at the store. They are common in Quebec and the American Midwest — and, apparently, extremely uncommon everywhere else. I looked into making them, but you need rennet, which proved just as difficult to find. I had just about decided to order a curd-making kit online (I told you, obsessed) when one of my online invisible pals said that he had spotted them, supplied by a local farmer, at my neighborhood Costco.
I pored over various online recipes, but this seemed to be one of those dishes, like mac and cheese with ground beef and ketchup, or cottage cheese mixed with applesauce and doused with cinnamon, that are so far from gourmet that you just have to talk to a native to get it right. So Sophie came over and our kids ate French fries as she directed me.
1. Fries. Remember that trend from the 1990s where restaurants created gourmet versions of junk food, like Twinkies and Ho-Hos and toast-them-at-the-table s’mores? So there are upscale versions of poutine, in which you make your own fries out of sliced new potatoes. Sophie forbade this. “You have to just go with it,” she said. “Respect the purity of the poutine.” So I got frozen fries, and I warmed them in the oven as directed.
2. Gravy. It’s easy to make, but even easier to buy. Much as you must choose Foster’s U-Bet chocolate syrup over Ghirardelli if you want a truly authentic egg cream, you need industrial gravy to make your poutine sing. I chose Heinz and heated it on the stovetop while the fries were baking.
3. Cheese curds. Ideally, you don’t want yours from Costco — they are supposed to be fresh enough to squeak when you eat them. (“It’s so weird,” says Sophie. “But it’s so good.”) If you’re going to substitute something easier to obtain, go with shredded cheddar or even Velveeta — something with a good melt.
4. Layers. Take a good-sized oven-proof bowl — soup-bowl-sized, not cereal bowl. First a pile of fries, then some gravy, then some curds, then more gravy. You want the gravy to permeate both the curds and the cheese — it’s like how lasagna has sauce on every layer. Poutine is like French fry lasagna. You want that gravy everywhere.
5. Heat. Put the bowls under the broiler for 3 minutes. That’s all. You’re just making sure everything melts together and gets a little mushy.
Eat with a fork. Watch your Canadian friend melt into a puddle of joy before your very eyes. Feel yourself warmed from your very core with a taste sensation that I would have to call the ultimate comfort food, perfect for a chilly day (or late night).
And for God’s sake, skip the third helping of chocolate thingies … or at least make sure nobody’s outside your bathroom door.
Check out more of Amy Keyishian’s posts on Recipe.com!