Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ca va faire une maudite poutine!

I had never heard of poutine, the Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy until our youngest daughter returned from a class trip to Quebec about six years ago. Since then it has become more familiar south of the 49th parallel, invading much in the same way as Tim Horton’s franchises.

Poutine originated in rural Quebec sometime in the late 1950’s with several communities claiming to be its birthplace. One story says that the first person asked to combine cheese curds with French fries replied, ”Ca va faire une maudite poutine.” (“It will make a damn mess.”). Whether or not this is true, it's a great description of what you get.
There are now endless variations using everything from ground beef to chicken, to Bolognese sauce or beef bourguignon, not to leave out Au Pied de Cochon’s artery-ripping foie gras poutine with foie gras gravy (“Hand me my Lipitor!”) or versions made with duck confit (yes, please!) and even lobster (Montreal chef Chuck Hughes bested the perpetually smug Bobby Flay with this dish on Iron Chef). Friends have had a vegetarian version from a food truck while in Rochester for the jazz festival.
In Montreal there are poutine restaurants open 24 hours, so it’s not hard to imagine that poutine could be something of a late-night food after a period of drinking, much like going for a bag of White Castle sliders.

Youngest daughter has wanted me to make poutine at home. Until recently, the only fresh cheese curds I could find were available on line from Wisconsin, but I had to order twenty pounds.
As I said, that was until recently.
I discovered that two of our local farm markets carry ½ pound containers of locally made cheddar cheese curds. While poutine purists might say that the curds should be the Frommage Beaucronne brand and they should be squeaky fresh. I wasn’t too worried about that detail in order to make poutine. If Mr.Sub, the Canadian chain of sandwich shops can make a “Philly cheese steak sub,” then I can make a poutine here.

You don’t have to follow our lead. I am sure many Canadians make poutine with frozen fries that they bake in the oven and use the St. Hubert brand of gravy in a pouch. Gravy in a pouch?
But not here, O, Canada!
The longest part of the recipe is making the fries. You’ll need Idaho or Russet baking potatoes. You can choose to peel them or not. Cut them lengthwise into ½ “ x ½ “ batons (you know, French fry shapes) and soak them in cold water. Before you fry the potatoes, dry them thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels (youngest daughter is genius at this). If you don’t have a deep fat fryer, choose a deep pot.  You should also have a frying thermometer. You will need about 1½ “ of vegetable oil; not very deep but it works. You may need to fry the potatoes in batches but that presents no problem.
French Fries need to be fried twice, once to blanch the potatoes and cook them through then a second time at a higher temperature to brown and crisp them. Between both steps you need to drain them on a baking tray lined with paper towels. Salt the completed fries: you can keep them warm in the oven (325 degrees).

The gravy for poutine is based on the classic French veloute sauce, which is a roux mixed with stock. You can use beef or chicken stock; I used some chicken stock I had in the freezer. Season the gravy with ground black pepper and a touch of red wine vinegar.
What do you serve with poutine? Well, to lessen any guilt, we made a huge salad. It may not be traditional but after all, our poutine may not be la vraie poutine but it is une vraie putain.

A recipe like this easily expands to feed more people even though we made it for the three of us
2 to 3 Russet or baking potatoes
8 ounce container of cheese curds

1. Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut the potatoes lengthwise into ½” thick batons  Store the cut potatoes in a bowl of cold water.
2. Remove the curds from the refrigerator on cut them into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. Set the curds aside until needed
3. Prepare the gravy:

Veloute gravy

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken or beef stock
salt and ground black pepper
½ Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1. Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. After the butter has melted whisk in the flour. Continue cooking the roux for several minutes until brown; you may wish to lower the temperature beneath the pot during this process. When the roux is a nice medium-brown color, remove the pot from the heat. Carefully whisk the stock into the roux, return the pan to the heat and whisk until the veloute gravy comes to a boil and thickens; it will not be a thick gravy. Remove from the heat, season with salt, ground black pepper, and the vinegar. Set aside.
2. Prepare the fries: A word or two about frying in hot oil. Exercise caution and monitor the temperature of the oil. If the oil ever spikes above 375 degrees, reduce the heat and let the oil cool before proceeding.
Drain the potatoes and pat them dry.  Add about 1 ½"of vegetable oil (canola oil) to a pot. Place a thermometer into the pot and bring the oil to a temperature of 325 degrees. Blanch the potatoes for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the potatoes and drain them on a tray lined with paper towels. Let the oil temperature recover to 325 before frying a new batch of potatoes. After all the fries have been blanched, raise the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees and fry the potatoes until golden brown and crisp. Salt the fries and keep them warm in the oven.
3. Assembling the poutine: Warm the gravy. Divide the fries between plates or bowls. Scatter the cheese curds, about 2 ounces per serving, over the fries and top with some gravy. Serve and enjoy your maudite poutine.

All of this has been made possible by the discovery of Honeybrook cheddar cheese curds, made by September Farm http://www.septemberfarmcheese.com/ which are  available locally at R&J Farm Market http://randjfarmmarket.com/index2.html
or Merrymead Farm. http://www.merrymead.com/

Congratulations to Jeremy Denk and Vijay Iyer, two pianists (one classical, one jazz) recently named MacArthur Fellows.

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