So what had happened was…I got hungry. I wanted a filling meal. Steak and potatoes were not calling my name. Fast food was DEFINITELY out of the question. And I really didn’t want something that required a lot of preparation (even though that is kind of what I ended up doing).
Well I recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdian’s Parts Unknown highlighting the culinary culture of Quebec, Canada, and I was drooling over an order of Poutine (pronounced “poo-tin” in the Canadian vernacular) that Anthony was stuffing his face with…Oh My Good-Good-Ness!
I’ve had versions of Poutine in Europe that were nowhere close to ‘authentic’ – just basic fries and gravy. I also had never prepared it myself, so I decided to go for it. And even though this was a first attempt does not mean that it was a novice attempt. I knew exactly what I wanted to taste, and how to achieve the very specific flavors stimulating my mind.
Now before I continue I need to explain just what Poutine actually is and how it’s prepared.
Classic Quebec Poutine
The classic poutine, invented in Quebec, and the example from which all poutines are derived, is a heap of crispy French fries topped by a handful of cheddar curds, and a chicken (or, sometimes, veal) based sauce. While great fries are important, it is the combination of sauce and curds which makes a poutine a transcendent culinary experience.
Chef G’s Canadian Poutine & Espagnole Sauce…my version
It would take quite a few paragraphs to go through my preparation step by step, but I hope that my photos help you to visualize how I whipped up this absolutely divine dish.
Bottom line up front… I made a sauce not gravy. Americans make gravy…the French prepare sauces. I am a huge fan of French sauces, and I really enjoy the sometimes tedious preparations to get them just right. The Espagnole sauce I ended up with was the pièce de résistance of this delicious dish.
Espagnole sauce is a brown sauce that is a mother sauce, one of the basic sauces found in French cuisine. Its name comes from the French word for “Spanish,” despite the fact that the sauce has no immediate ties to Spanish cooking or culture. The recipe for this brown sauce was originally standardized by the French chef, restaurateur, and food writer Auguste Escoffier in the late 19th century, and has not changed much since that time.
Most recipes for Espagnole sauce include butter and flour that make up the roux used to thicken the sauce. The stock used is a brown stock, usually veal stock. Bacon or ham are usually also found in the recipe, as well as tomatoes or tomato puree. Most recipes also include some variety of aromatic vegetables, such as carrots and onions, and seasonings, such as bay leaves and cloves. Other ingredients may also be added, such as red wine, garlic, celery, horseradish, etc.
For my sauce I used a mixture of duck and beef stocks. Why? Because I wanted a very rich and super flavorful taste to cover the fries and excite my palate. The duck stock was some I had from previous meals, and the beef stock I made from scratch using braised beef strip steaks.
I added malt liquor and Grand Marnier to kick it up a couple of notches…BAM! And to achieve that shiny creamy silkiness — fresh cream butter.
The French Fries…
Even though the sauce is the primary focus of the dish, the fries have got to meet two very important criteria:
1. They must be tender on the inside.
2. They MUST be crispy on the outside.
How does on achieve that perfect balance? By frying the potatoes twice. Any decent French fry needs to be twice fried. The first frying in done at a lower temperature, which softens the potato and prepares the starchy surface for achieving crispiness the second time around.
When done correctly, you get an amazing texture combination of light fluffy interior and thin crisp exterior. When you fry raw potatoes, even if the oil and temperature are perfect, there is really no way it will get and stay crisp just cooking it through in one shot. Check out how one of my favorite chefs does this:
I cannot get cheese curds locally, so I initially decided on goat cheese crumbles. However, I couldn’t find any during my 1am ‘quick run’ to the grocery store. I got Feta cheese instead…and the tanginess really set the final dish off righteously.
I included a basic recipe at the end of the post, but you can really go wild with this dish and make it your own. Even in Canada and places in the U.S. enormous variety has been achieved in restaurants, cafes, food stands, and even home kitchens. Some examples:
- Poutine Itallienne : Marinara sauce tops the fries instead of a Velouté.
- Poutine Bourguinonne : Ground beef and fried onions are added to the Velouté sauce.
- Poutine BBQ : Served with heated BBQ sauce.
- Poutine Mole : An Oaxacan black mole sauce slathers over the mixture, adding a wonderful smoky chocolate sweetness.
- Disco Fries : An off-menu item in New Jersey and New York diners, combines a chicken-gravy and shredded cheddar on top a plate of fries.
CHEF G’s POUTINE…
1. Cut potatoes into lengths of about ¼” x ¼” x 4″. Place in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add shallot and garlic, and cook, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add stock, ketchup, vinegar, peppercorns, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep gravy warm.
3. Pour oil to a depth of 3″ in a 6-qt. Dutch oven, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Drain potatoes, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Working in small batches, add potatoes and fry, tossing occasionally, until tender and slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.
4. Drain on paper towels, and let cool for 20 minutes. Increase temperature to medium-high, and heat oil until it reads 375°. Working in small batches, return potatoes to oil, and fry, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer fries to paper towels to drain briefly, and then divide among serving bowls. Pour gravy over each serving of fries, and top with cheese curds; serve immediately.