O Canada: Poutine

Chicken and Poutine

This dish comes to you from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, where most street corners in the downtown area are dotted with “chip trucks”, mobile vendors of French fries and hot dogs.  And poutine.  A melty mix of hot fries, squeaky cheese curds, and oozing thick gravy.

Like most foods we hold dear to the Canadian heart (though if you hold this one too close you are apt to have a heart attack), the origins are contested.  The version I like best I heard on CBC a few years back.  This particular chip truck also sold cheese curds, a Québec specialty.  A customer wanted the vendor to simply chuck his order of cheese curds on top of his fries.  The vendor protested, saying “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (it’ll make a damned mess), but the customer insisted.

Chicken and Poutine

A new delicacy was created out of “a damned mess”, though the gravy drizzled over the fries and curds to keep them warm came a little later.

My mother grew up in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, so I trusted her judgment as a child when she told me that poutine was absolutely the most disgusting thing in the entire world.  Then, when I was a teenager, and we moved to Ottawa, I discovered that my mother had never in fact eaten poutine in her life.   I promptly went out and discovered what I had been missing.

My mother did, at the age of 60, eventually eat her first poutine.  The dish has a new fan.  If you’re in the Ottawa area, the best place in the city for poutine is JP’s Crispy Chips, a high-end chip truck on the corner of Merivale and Baseline Roads.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

That’s not to say you can’t get good poutine at other places in the city.  The chip truck near my high school had a decent recipe.  If you wanted to get fancy you could head down to the Elgin Street Diner and try their Philly Cheese Steak Poutine, among other variations.

Chicken and Poutine

But poutine outside of the Ottawa-Gatineau area tends to fall a little short of my expectations.  The Pie and I once ordered a poutine in Parry Sound, Ontario.  What arrived was a plate of Tex-Mex seasoned frozen fries, grated marble cheddar, and a gravy that obviously came from a powder packet.  Most disappointing.  The only decent poutine I’ve had outside of Ottawa-Gatineau has actually been here in St. John’s.  Newfoundlanders are good at eating potatoes, so they picked up on poutine right away.  Venice Pizzeria has a version served with “dressing,” what I call stuffing — the kind that goes in a bird.  And Aqua has a ridiculously rich version with chorizo and LOBSTER.

We’re going to do it the simple way here.  I don’t think my arteries could take it any other way.

A note before we begin, however.  You can buy your fries pre-cut and frozen from the store.  You can use powdered or canned gravy rather than make it from scratch.  You can use chicken gravy, turkey gravy, beef gravy, moose gravy, or mushroom gravy.  Whatever gravy you want.

But you absolutely MUST use cheese curds.  Must.  Otherwise it’s just fries with cheese on them.  And if you can get the cheese curds from St-Albert, Québec, by all means do so.  You can definitely taste the difference.  We used these ones from Montréal, Québec, and although they were good, they just weren’t the same.

Chicken and Poutine

Because we were serving the poutine as a sort of pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to roast a chicken to serve on the side (because everything takes a backseat to poutine).  This also gave us a base from which to make our gravy.

Chicken and Poutine

First I fried up some onions with butter and herbes de provence, then I stuffed them into the chicken, which I roasted at 400°F until the thickest part of the thigh registered at 180° and the juices ran clear.

Chicken and Poutine

I used the juices that came out as the foundation for my gravy. I have more info on making gravy here.

Chicken and Poutine

I poured the juices into a saucepan and added a ton of organic chicken broth.  Here’s your gravy base, if you’re going for chicken gravy from scratch.

Chicken and Poutine

Make a slurry of flour and water and add that as well.  Bring the gravy to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer to thicken.

Chicken and Poutine

The Pie was also engaged in making a pumpkin pie while this was going on. Gren got to lick the pumpkin spoon. Cooking dogs are so very helpful.

Chicken and Poutine

While that is going on, chop up 6 medium potatoes into shapes resembling French fries.

Chicken and Poutine

Rinse off the starch and let the potatoes soak for half an hour.

Chicken and Poutine

Drain them and dry them with a paper towel when you are ready to cook.

Chicken and Poutine

In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups vegetable oil to a temperature of 350°F. Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to be accurate.

Ease about half your potatoes into the hot oil.  A wire spoon is handy in this situation.  A fry basket would be even better.

Chicken and Poutine

Leave them in there, sputtering away, for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries. The sputtering will calm down after a while.

Chicken and Poutine

Pull them out and let them sit on a paper towel for about 5 minutes, while you cook the rest of the fries.

Chicken and Poutine

After you have cooked each batch once, allow the heat of the oil to rise to 365°F.  Now you put the first batch back into the pot and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, until light brown.

Drain on paper towels again, season with sea salt, and get ready to serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

Pour half the fries into the bottom of a large serving bowl.  Sprinkle half a package of cheese curds on top.  Add a bit of gravy to get everything melty.

Chicken and Poutine

Repeat with the remaining fries, curds, and some more gravy.  Serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

We had ours with our roasted chicken, stuffing onions, and some carrots.  And all that extra gravy, of course.

Chicken and Poutine

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Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

In trying to adapt to a new routine (in our case, to the start of a new school semester), it’s easy to get lazy about your cooking.  Fortunately (because I’m me), when I cook I do it in large batches and I freeze what I don’t use.  So on nights when we’re feeling lazy we can simply unfreeze some pre-prepared goodness rather than buying something quick at the store.

In this particular situation we hauled out some beef burgers I’d frozen the week before.  But what to go on the side?  How about some sweet potato fries?  That sounds like a good plan.  Baked instead of fried, of course, but you get the idea.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Peel yourself some sweet potatoes (we used 4, but it depends on the size of the potato and the amount of fries you want).  These are also known as yams in some parts of the United States, but it gets a little confusing

Sweet Potato Fries

Chop the potatoes up into thin sticks (y’know, French fry-shaped pieces), and pop them in boiling water for 5-6 minutes to par-boil.  If you like your fries a little crispier, I wouldn’t bother to par-boil them.

Sweet Potato Fries

Drain them and toss them in a greased roasting pan or baking sheet.  Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and a little bit of cajun seasoning.

Sweet Potato Fries

Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping with a spatula halfway through.  The “fries” should be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Fries

Bar Night: Buffalo Chicken Strips

The Pie and I went to Buffalo, NY, for a shopping trip once.  We drove past the Anchor Bar, undisputed home of the Buffalo chicken wing, and it was closed.  We never went back.  I regret it to this day.  And when you order wings in St. John’s, you can get them with barbecue sauce or honey garlic, but none of that tangy, vinegary spiciness that comes with the bright orange Buffalo wing sauce.  It’s truly sad.

Out of necessity, therefore, I have had to come up with my own version of that sauce.  It’s not quite right, but it will do in a pinch.

Start with a base of hot sauce, like Tabasco.  Add in a bit of butter, as well as some light barbecue sauce (not the dark smoky stuff).  The sauce I used is the one I made the Pie for Christmas.  Pour in some rice vinegar and some white vinegar to taste.  Adjust your amounts until it’s the way you like it.

Simmer that down for a while.

While that’s cooking down, peel and thinly cut some carrots into sticks.

Cut up some celery as well, and plop your veggies in a bowl of water to await your pleasure.

Get yourself some blue cheese and some sour cream.

Crumble the blue cheese into a bowl and smush it together with some sour cream to make a blue cheese sauce.

Process some bread crumbs until they are superfine.

Slice up some chicken breasts into thin strips.

Dip the strips into buttermilk, then into your bread crumbs.

Repeat until you’re out of strips and thoroughly covered with gooey bread crumbs.

Fry up those strips until they are brown and crispy.

Toss the strips in a bowl with your simmered down sauce until the strips are all coated.

Serve with your vegetables, blue cheese dressing, and, hey, why not some French fries?