Some people like this dish any time all year round. But as the weather is damp and dank, the north wind blowing cold and the news dismays, poutine will prove to be just the right satisfying comfort food that’s also perfectly doable at home.
As with so many popular dishes, the history of this combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy is full of competing origin stories, though most seem to point to the mid-1900s in French-Canadian restaurants or snack bars where French fries were produced most easily in fryolators. And as with so many comfort foods, cheese-rich poutine is high in calories, too. One source declared that the word poutine means mess, and it is a mess, all melty and gravy covered.
A perfectly acceptable version of something akin to deep fried potatoes is possible with oven-roasted potatoes made with plenty of oil, or (if you have it) duck or chicken fat. Cut the potatoes thick like steak fries, or in slender sticks like classic French fries. A fun snack food, cheese curds squeak pleasantly when you bite into them, and are readily found in the specialty cheese case at most Maine grocery stores. Essentially curds are milk curdled and drained from the whey, but unpressed, the product of the first step in making hard cheese. Sometimes flavored with herbs or hot peppers, or sometimes just plain, curds melt readily in the hot potatoes.
What kind of gravy you choose depends on what you have on hand, though pork gravy is a classic. If you have no gravy, and don’t want to use canned or packaged gravy, a sauce made of the same fat you roasted the potatoes in or butter plus a good broth will serve just as well unless you are a poutine purist. I used chicken fat with olive oil to roast my potatoes so I made a chicken gravy.
When I make poutine, I figure on one large or two medium potatoes per person. It goes without saying, I guess, that you can use frozen French fries and just follow the instructions for heating them up. Curds come in pint-sized containers and half a container or a generous cup-full is fine for two people, but you can use more or less according to taste or appetite. One half to one cup full of gravy is plenty for two people.
One secret to preparing the potatoes is to remember to have a very hot oven, and to make sure there is a single layer of potatoes to insure that they will be crisp and golden. At 475 degrees Fahrenheit, the potatoes will roast in 15 to 20 minutes.
Poutine for Two
–2-3 tablespoons fat or vegetable oil
–2 large or 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into fries
–Half a pint of cheese curds
–1 cup gravy
–Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt the fat and oil together in a heavy baking or roasting pan.
Distribute the potatoes in the pan, tossing to coat all sides with oil, but making sure there is a single layer. Put them into the oven.
Check the potatoes after 10 minutes and if they are golden on the pan side flip them over and put them back for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the gravy or heat up pre-made gravy.
When the potatoes are golden brown, add the curds to them and toss to distribute, and stick them back into the oven to melt the cheese, about 3 minutes.
Remove from the oven and dribble the gravy over the potatoes and cheese and serve.