Adventures in poutine, part one

It’s like I’ve been in withdrawal, really.

I haven’t had poutine since I left Vancouver at the end of May. Before that, I made sure to have as much of it as I possibly could, so going from feast to famine, as it were, was particularly rough. I’d also joked that maybe I would need to learn to make my own and that could lead to a lucrative side business as St. Louis’s only purveyor of poutine.

As it happens, there are some places you can get poutine here. However, they are hardly what I would call authentic. One restaurant makes it with pork belly and sweet potato fries. Another uses meaty gravy and the waitress told me, “It’s not like the real thing, trust me.” There’s even  a place here that makes poutine with—get this—blue cheese.

Did you hear that, Canada? Blue cheese. If this were Twitter, I’d be SMDH.

I’m not really sure why poutine isn’t more popular in America. It’s made of three things that we can’t get enough of in their individual forms: cheese, fries, and gravy. Depending on the gravy and what the fries are fried in, it can be as vegetarian or as meaty as you like. Obviously, I go for the vegetarian variety.

When I could get it, that is. I can’t get it here. So what’s a poutine-starved vegetarian to do?

Make his own, that’s what.

I had a little bit of money left over from a gift card to a certain online behemoth named after a South American river who shall remain nameless on this blog. Since I wasn’t about to use it to buy what I usually buy (books), I decided to look up deep fryers and start pricing them. I found one that I was able to get for nothing out of pocket, which is a good thing while I’m “funemployed!®”

So, once that arrived, all I needed were potatoes, gravy, and cheese curds. Finding the potatoes was easy, but that’s about the only thing that was.

1. Cheese curds. You’d think they wouldn’t be that hard to find, right? Wrong. We went to no fewer than six grocery stores looking for them. I figured Local Harvest would be the safest bet, but Marcoot Creamery hadn’t made their delivery that week. (The cashier thought they might be on vacation.) Trader Joe’s, the last place I’d gotten them, didn’t carry them anymore. Neither did Whole Foods.

And let me just say, the staff at Whole Foods? Rude.

We ended up finding them at Fields Foods, over by Lafayette Square. Just one thing, though: they were yellow. I think I’ve only had yellow cheese curds once, when we visited the Tillamook factory in Oregon. All of the poutine I had in Vancouver was made with white curds. Already it seemed like I was compromising the authenticity and culinary integrity of the poutine.

2. Gravy. Most of the vegetarian gravies I had in Vancouver were either miso or mushroom based. I decided to go for miso this time, and I found a recipe online that mimicked the miso gravy served at The Naam. And if you haven’t been to The Naam and you live in Vancouver, go. Right now. If you’re not in Vancouver and want to try their (I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I call it legendary) miso gravy, try this recipe, but either reduce or leave out the sweetener.

However, as a gravy for poutine, it doesn’t really cut it, as the pictures indicate. I’d forgotten that it turns out a very light tan, which, in addition to its being overly sweet (at least as I made it), puts it out of the running as a poutine gravy. This gravy should be tangy, with a hint of pepper to it. Next time: mushroom gravy.

3. The french fries. Crispy fries are essential in order to hold up to all that gravy. Making them from scratch seemed like the thing to do, especially since I now had this handy dandy deep fryer. However, peeling the potatoes, slicing them up, soaking them in hot water for fifteen minutes (I don’t know why, but that’s what the fryer’s instructions said to do), and then frying them not once, but twice, was as time consuming as it sounds.

Also, I gave myself a blister slicing the potatoes.

Hand sliced potatoes also means uneven sizes which means uneven cooking; some of the fries turned out golden and perfect, the smaller ones got overdone, and some of them were kind of mushy. As much as it pains me, next time I’m using frozen french fries.

The verdict: Well, it was worth a shot, but if I were still in Vancouver, there’s no chance I’d be giving Fritz a run for their money. More likely, instead of making my own, I’d be running to Fritz to get some.

I’m not giving up though. If at first you don’t succeed, fry fry again.

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8 thoughts on “Adventures in poutine, part one

  1. Try soaking the fries in COLD water (instructions? bah. dare to fail), and there are a couple of simple mandolin-kinda kitchen devices that will make more uniform fries so you have more consistency. Frozen will work, but I’m pretty insistent on fresh ingredients whenever possible. Mushroom gravy will be awesome, but — unbelievably — gravy made from regular, inexpensive white mushrooms will have a better consistency than the more expensive specialty kinds.

  2. Love this! And, even though I am Canadian, I can honestly say that I have NEVER eaten Poutine! Must be due to my Belgian roots and that I’m a purist when it comes to eating fries. (Although I do like to dip them in mayonnaise and sometimes add a little hot sauce to that mayo, since I’ve been living in the Caribbean.) One trick I learned from my Belgian grandfather who ran a fish & chips shop in Toronto during the 40s and 50s was to twice-fry the fries. Fry for 6 minutes first at about 275F to kind of cook the insides then just before serving fry them again at 350F for 3 minutes to crisp them up and turn them golden brown. I also never soak the potatoes in water now, but pat them dry with paper towels after I slice them. I’ve had the best results that way. Enjoy!

    • Yep! I did the twice-frying method which did get some of them nice and crispy. My slices were unequal sizes, though, so they didn’t cook uniformly. I’m skipping the soak next time! (I do love mayo with really hot, crisp fries too. My parents lived in Belgium for a couple years and I think I first had them that way when I was visiting.)

  3. Further to this, I remembered an article I had read in Jeffrey Steingarten’s collection, “The Man Who Ate Everything”, and found the book was still on my shelf. “Fries” covers Steingarten’s search for the best recipe for French Fries, right down to finding the best fat in which to fry them. Funny, but also informative. (Published in April 1996)

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