What Is Poutine?
Gravy-topped fries with cheese curds, by any other name...
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Fries are fries. But those from Canada — especially Quebec — know that fries can be much more. Top them with gravy and cheese curds, and you've got poutine. And in Quebec and other parts of the country, poutine is as ubiquitous as pizza is in New York City. Poutine isn’t fancy, but done right it’s the ultimate comfort food (and beloved as bar food or next-day hangover relief).
Classic poutine is made of a plate of hot and crispy French fries, topped with chunks of just melting fresh cheese curds, and smothered in a savory and salty brown gravy. It can be found in anywhere from fast food joints to gussied-up versions in more upscale restaurants. Although it’s prolific across Canada, poutine can be found across America, too. And with any super popular dish, there are plenty of creative riffs out there that play to the general theme of poutine, with creative liberties, of course.
Classic poutine hinges on the gravy. You can go super simple, like this recipe with a very easy beef stock-based gravy or get a little more complex with Chuck Hughes' version which adds shallots and garlic, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, peppercorns and more into his gravy.
Chef Jason McLeod, a native of Vancouver Island, now runs a number of restaurants in San Diego including Ironside Fish and Oyster. He found a way to honor his “motherland” while also utilizing local California ingredients and sustainable fish, a big part of his SoCal restaurant.
His version of poutine is made with goat milk cheese curds, Hawaiian Opah gravy/Bolognese and fresh-cut fries.
“You do not typically see cheese and fish go together but the opah is very similar to beef in so many ways that it ends up being a really incredible pairing and we get to use the scraps of the opah and make a really delicious dish that is from my home country and using a sustainable fish without wasting any of the delicious meat.”
Kelsey Nixon whips up a version with a shrimp gravy that she makes with medium shrimp, shrimp stock, unsalted butter, dry sherry, heavy cream, and tomato paste that’s reminiscent of a shrimp bisque. The gravy is poured over a plate of hot French fries with cheese curds on top.
For a fun spin, swap in chicken for your poutine. You’ll cut some Yukon gold potatoes into fries and bake them in the oven. While they are cooking you’ll make a gravy with scallions, Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, chicken and peas. That’ll go over those fresh-out-of-the-oven fries, and you’ll scatter mozzarella cheese (or cheese curds if you can find them!) and top with remaining scallions.
Canadians may snuff at calling these versions poutine, but a few extra additions at a lot of flavor. This chorizo version uses sweet potato waffle fries and a sauce that combines both the gravy and cheese elements — taking chorizo mixed with cream cheese, chicken stock, sour cream, pickled jalapeno and hot sauce — and then stirring in cheddar cheese.
Or you could go the cowboy route, with a steak fries base, topped with baked beans, BBQ-spiced ground beef, crispy onion stings and smoked gouda cheese.