You Want Fries With That?

 

So you take fries, bake them with cheese curd and then cover them with brown gravy? Who came up with this? The Canadians!

Poutine is a dish created in Quebec in the 1950s. There are a million variations of poutine (pronounced poo-tin, just like Vladimir Putin) but the traditional dish contains only three components: fries, cheese curd and gravy. Poutine has entered the mainstream and on some menus contains everything from fried eggs to foie gras.

Fries
You may have made fries at home before: Cut open the red bag, place the fries on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes. If you want to go that route, you can stop by the canned food aisle and get some gravy, then go through the snack food section and grab some cheese spray in a can. You could whip up the convenience-food version of poutine in a matter of minutes.

Making poutine from scratch may take a few extra steps and a little planning, but it makes the whole process more honest, and the end product tastes much better. Preheat a deep fryer to 300 degrees and cut the potatoes into one-eighth-inch or one-fourth-inch slices, then into corresponding sticks. (Peeling is up to you. I like to leave the skin on.)

Once the fryer preheats to 300 degrees, cook the one-eighth-inch fries for 2½ to three minutes; one-fourth-inch or slightly larger fries cook for 3½ to four minutes. The fries should be floating and have a hint of brown. Remove the fries and place on a paper-towel-lined tray to drain. Cool completely in the refrigerator. Turn the fryer up to 365 degrees and fry again until fries are crisp and a slightly dark golden brown (time should be just short of the first fry). Place them on paper towels to drain and allow to cool slightly. Place slightly cooled fries into a bowl and toss with a small amount of salt and pepper as desired.

 

Curds
Everyone knows what cheese is, and they know that somewhere along the line, curds and whey are involved. The curds (produced by culturing milk, with the byproduct of whey) can be produced from a multitude of milks to turn into a vast variety of cheeses. Most cheeses start out with a curd that is heated, seasoned, pressed and then aged to the particular style. Cheese curds are a generic first step, mostly found in Canada and the northern United States. They tend to be quite dense and have a slight squeak when you bite into them, giving them their other name: “squeaky cheese.”

Locally, you can find cheese curd or mozzarella curd at some specialty cheese counters. Diced fresh mozzarella will work as a close substitute. There are many variations topped with cheese or a cheese sauce that are equally delicious.

 

Gravy
Canadians traditionally pour a thin brown gravy over the top of the fries and curds as they come out of the oven. In addition to the traditional thin brown gravy, your other options are to make a brown roux with brown stock or just a brown stock. Using a brown roux made with vegetable oil will give a much richer and deeper flavor than a white roux from brown stock. If you want to take the flavor to an even richer level, reduce the brown stock to a glacé and use only the natural gelatin to thicken the sauce and season, once sauce has become the desired thickness.


Poutine
Serves 3 to 4

3 potatoes (peel, if desired)
10 to 12 ounces cheese curd
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces brown gravy (recipe follows)

Cut potatoes and make fries as desired. Toss in bowl with cheese curd, salt and pepper. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes until cheese curd has begun to melt and started to brown slightly. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Top with gravy and serve.

 

Brown Gravy

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flour
8 ounces brown stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a sauté pan. When hot, add flour; stir and cook until roux forms a deep brown color. Stirring constantly, slowly add brown stock (chicken, beef, veal or other). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook while stirring for another 5 to 10 minutes until flour taste has cooked away and volume has reduced to about 4 ounces. Season gravy with salt and pepper as desired.

VARIATIONS: Add variety to your poutine with bacon, green onions, fried eggs, foie gras, pulled pork, brisket, ground beef, sausage, fried chicken livers, truffle, tomatoes, lobster, pickles, avocado, jalapeños, kimchee, sautéed mushrooms, roast beef, caviar, crab, duck fat fries, and just about anything else that your local farmers’ market is selling this week.

DIRECTIONS
Slice potatoes lengthwise to desired thickness, stack in sets of 3 or 4 and slice into fries.

Place fries into 300-degree fryer; fry small fries for 2½ to 3 minutes and larger fries for 3½ to 4 minutes. Fries should be floating and be slightly brown. Place on a sheet tray and cool in the refrigerator. Turn the fryer up to 365 degrees and fry the parcooked fries until very crisp and a dark golden brown (about 2½ minutes for small and 3½ minutes for large).

Toss cooked fries with salt, pepper and cheese curd. Place into an oven-safe dish and bake in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes until curd has melted and has slightly brown edges. Remove from the oven and top with gravy.

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