A typical Québécois dish that can be found in every casse-croûte is the poutine. Now gaining national popularity, this dish is often served in small town restaurants, bars, and quite popular in ski resorts across Canada. Our friends Nat and Tim from A Cook Not Mad decided to embrace this cult classic, by embarking on a ‘poutine crawl’ to see how they compare. Warning: this post will leave you salivating for poutine by the time you finish reading it.
The Back Story
The word poutine has a few meanings in the Québécois language, mostly relating to food. Two of those are the Acadian poutine à trou, which is an apple pastry, and the poutine rapée, which is a sort of pork and potato dumpling. Of course the one the majority of people in Canada know is the mess of fries, gravy and cheese curds. An embarrassment to some Canadians, like our use of the word “eh!” poutine is Québec’s ultimate junk food, one that we can claim as our own.
It’s not known exactly who invented poutine, (several people have come forth as the creator) but what is known is that it was developed in the late 1950’s somewhere in rural Québec. Since then, it has spread like wildfire all over the province, the country and the world. It has made its way to restaurants in the United States, and has recently been spotted as far away as Bangkok and Paris.
Since its humble beginnings, it has grown in popularity and has spawned hundreds of variations including a $23 foie gras poutine at Martin Picard’s, Au Pied De Cochon. Poutineville Montreal offers a Heart Attack poutine boasting 5 pounds of fries, chicken, bacon, hot dogs, ground beef, smoked ham, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, curds, mozzarella and poutine sauce. The final weight is 15 pounds; price, $70.00 and it can easily feed 6 people.
Like all foods that gain some notoriety, the poutine has been manipulated and worked over until it resembles little of its original form. Years ago purists of the dish would have cringed at the thought of adding spaghetti sauce (for an Italian poutine) or smoked meat (for a Montrealer), much like an Italian would cringe at topping his/her Neapolitan pizza with anything other than fresh crushed tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. It’s for this very reason that we decided to limit our eating to only the classic poutine of French fries, gravy and cheese curds.
The Poutine Crawl
The first poutine we had on our crawl came from St-Hubert. This is a very popular chain; so popular in fact, they sell their poutine sauce in grocery stores all over the province of Québec, canned and in powder form. The only word that can describe the poutine that we had from this chain is, disappointment. The fries were obviously from frozen and the sauce thin. The only good thing was the curds.
Next up was Les Brasseurs du Temps, a local microbrewery in the very space where Philemon Wright himself brewed beer back in the 1800’s. They serve their poutine in a large oval plate. The fries are cut fresh daily (they go through over 1000 pounds of fries a week) and cooked to golden perfection. The sauce is the right consistency, made from fresh chicken and duck stock with a little kick to it. They put enough to coat the fries but leave some crispy and untouched. The curds are fresh and from local producer La Trappe à Fromage.
Our last stop was La Patate Dorée on Eddy Street, touted as the best poutine in town. Picnic tables set up next to the building make for a great local hangout during hot summer nights. Their poutine looked good, and had the potential to be awesome, steaming hot; fresh cut fries and melty curds from Kingston. The problem was in the sauce, there was just too much of it, which in turn made the fries soggy and like many casse-croûtes the gravy was made from a powder of brown and water.
The Perfect Poutine: is there such a thing?
What we’ve learned from talking to people about poutine is that one person’s perfect poutine is an inedible mess to the next. Whether you like your poutine with extra crispy fries and less sauce or with so much sauce that the fries on the bottom turn into mush, keep in mind that a small poutine packs an average of 700 calories (342 calories from fat). It’s definitely not a light snack.
Have you tried poutine in Québec or somewhere else in the world? Share your thoughts; we’d love to hear what you think of this Québécois dish!