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

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake – Day Three

It’s day three — the wedding day — and all that is left is to assemble our confection.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll see that after all the hard work we put into the preparation, this next bit is a cake walk in comparison.  Ha.  Ha.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Gob some royal icing inside the guidelines for the next tier, starting with the bottom tier.Align the second tier with your guideline, and then kind of drop it into place, while avoiding touching the sides of the cake with your fingers.  Gob on some more royal icing.Drop on the top tier.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?Now get your green licorice vines in order.  I used four strands, which I “stapled” into place individually, using hoops of floral wire

I kept them concentrated at the top, then draped them around the cake in a circle.

Make sure to staple the vines occasionally to the cake to hold them in place.A gob of royal icing and an ivy leaf with no stem will hide the end bits.Then I just started sticking in leaves by their stems into the cake around the vines.  I made sure that, after the first one that was glued in, all the leaves were facing the same direction, but other than that, I tried to keep it as random as possible with respect to leaf colour and size.And it turned out better than I had expected.Tada!I treated myself to a beer after I was finished, even though it was barely noon.  Before I did that, however, I put the completed, weighing-more-than-my-dog cake back into the fridge.  Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …Make sure to bring the cake to room temperature for at least two hours before serving.

Thankfully, the cake tasted even better than it looked — a marvel to be sure!  I even managed to get it to the venue before it rained.

Canada's Parliament, view from Gatineau across the Ottawa River

And the bride was happy, which was most important.

No seriously, she was super happy.

Love you guys.  Congratulations!