Fun With French: Poutine
Living in Montreal will spoil a person. On just about every street corner in the city you can find a little hole in the wall deli. And in those delis, you will find two things: smoked meat and poutine . These two unique foods are unlike anything you can get outside of Quebec – unless the vendor is ordering the stuff from Quebec.
For those who love deli meats, smoked meat is something you really must try. It's tough to describe, but if you think of the texture of corned beef and the taste of pastrami, you'll come close. It's sliced thickly, and served warm on rye bread with yellow mustard. You simply haven't lived until you've had a smoked meat sandwich with coleslaw and a dill pickle on the side!
You may think you're familiar with poutine. You can order something that goes by that name in many places around the world. Both Dairy Queen and McDonald's have their own versions of this sinful snack, but if you have any illusions of these being the authentic poutine, think again!
Real French Fries
A real poutine as served in Quebec is made with real fries – thick cut from real potatoes and cooked fresh, not some kind of skinny frozen stuff made from extruded mashed potato, or whatever the big restaurant chains are serving these days. In Montreal the restaurants regularly take delivery of 50 lb bags of potatoes, for making French fries. If you're going to have poutine, you want the fries to be authentic. They're served piping hot, crisp on the outside, and still a little squishy inside.
Authentic Curd Cheese
Next in the poutine is cheese, but not just any cheese. Curd cheese is a very special product whose history goes back to a dairy surplus in Quebec in the 1950s. It starts out like a white cheddar, but then it's salted and cut up so it forms thick curds. It's sort of like really big chunks of firm cottage cheese, only without all the creamy sauce. This stuff is really special. It's made to be left sitting out at room temperature. It has a shelf life of seven days without refrigeration, and when it's really fresh you can tell because it will make a squeaking noise on your teeth when you eat it.
The last ingredient is the gravy. Pretty much any gravy will do. The standard poutine sauce is a sort of chicken barbecue gravy, but there are recipes that use everything from guacamole to sour cream, depending on the kind of poutine you want.
Origins of Poutine
Poutine comes from a French word that means a kind of jumble of leftovers, and legend has it that it was first thrown together by accident in a little resto that had been serving fries with gravy, the way they do in the UK. The cheese was added to the fries, and the gravy poured out on top. The heat from the fries and gravy melted the cheese, resulting in a rich gooey comfort food that every Qu é b écois loves.
Poutine is a staple in every local restaurant, along with smoked meat sandwiches, souvlaki, pizza and burgers, and steamies. If the resto has a varied menu, you can order your poutine with meat and even veggies on it. The most common variants are poutine served with shredded chicken breast and sometimes green peas, and a smoked meat poutine. If you like tomato, you can get an Italian poutine that uses a meaty spaghetti sauce instead of gravy. You can even get poutine served Mexican style, or a Greek poutine with black olives, tomatoes and feta cheese.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Quebec, be sure to sample the poutine. And if you find a reliable source for authentic poutine outside Quebec, tell me about it! Our only supplier of real poutine closed down over a year ago, and I'm in withdrawal!
Image credit: A serving of smoked meat poutine to go, photo © Kyla Matton Osborne
Note: This content has been adapted from an original piece by the author, which has since been removed from Bubblews
Image Credit » Kyla Matton Osborne