Poutine might be the national food of Canada…but it is certainly the favorite of Québec. The combination of grease, salt, cheese, and gravy make it irresistible. Sure, it’s not high on the health food chain, but it’s worth an occasional calorie splurge.
The exact origins of poutine are still debated. Sometime in the 1950s, somewhere between rural Québec and Montreal, something happened:
- In tiny Warwick (population 4700) at Le Lutin Qui Rit (The Laughing Leprechaun) a salesman or trucker–depending on who tells the story–asked for cheese curds to be added to an order of frites (fries). The owner/chef was horrified: “Ça va faire une maudite poutine,” or, “That’s going to make a dreadful mess!”
- In Drummondville, Jean-Paul Roy claims that poutine began at his drive-in, Le Roy Jucep. He’d been serving frites in a special sauce since 1958, in a dish he called patate-sauce. When he noticed that customers were adding cheese curds (he sold them in bags at his snack counter) to their fries, he added the dish to his regular menu under the name fromage-patate-sauce.
When poutine first started, it didn’t really have a name. It was just a 50-50 combination of fries and cheese curds. Once gravy became an ingredient, the Québécois referred to it as “mixte” or mixed. “Poutine” finally took hold, possibly from the French word pouding, meaning a mixture that usually messy. Today, it’s just a Québécois slang word for “mess.”
Poutine is so much more than just a fast food or hangover cure. It’s actually a hot political topic. The Québécois–always prideful–claim it is solely theirs–and to label it as a national Canadian dish “tarnishes Québéc culture and undermines its legitimacy of self-determination as a nation.”
And when an anti-Québec political candidate tried to show his support for Québec by eating poutine at Ben’s Deli in Montréal, the stunt totally backfired. The Québécois were quick to point out that Ben’s Deli was famous for smoked meat, not poutine–hence, it merely showed his ignorance of Québéc culture.
Although Québecois claim this dish, it seems that all Canadians love poutine. More than 50% consider it their national food. When famous Canadian inventions were ranked, poutine lost out only to insulin! Poutine beat out the BlackBerry, standard time, and the Bloody Caesar, Canada’s national cocktail.
Like all simple foods, poutine has become the foundation of fancy recipes by famous chefs…leading to outrageous prices. While you can get delicious poutine at nearly any McDonald’s in Canada for CAD $3.99, get ready to pay up to ten times that for some of these variations:
- seal (Yep, controversial!) sausage poutine made with sweet potato gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, cheese curds, and au jus
- fois gras…lots of it–by far, the most expen$ive rendition. For $ure!
- lobster chunks, smothered in a rich lobster bisque sauce
- duck confit, cheese curds, and caramelized onions with balsamic vinegar, in a red wine and foie gras sauce
- Italian poutine, which replaces the gravy with Bolognese sauce
Of course, poutine has now made its way around the world, and is “reinvented” whenever it goes. You’ll find it with gumbo, beef stew, chicken tikka, BBQ, and vegan gravy…as long as it involves frites, it’s considered poutine. Just remember that this is a very simple dish, easily made at home. No need to go overboard. Bon appetit, mes amis!
SUPER-Fast Poutine Serves 4: 700 calories per serving
While fresh-cut fries, homemade gravy (recipe below) and fresh cheese curds are best, you can get by in a pinch with this poutine…
Frozen French fries: Measure for 4 servings. Cook according to directions, either in the oven, with oil on the stove, or in an air fryer
1 jar of brown or beef gravy (10.5 ounces)
2 cups of cheese curds (room temperature works best)
While cooking the fries, warm the gravy. When fries are done, place on a plate, top with the curds and gravy. Serve immediately.
Poutine Gravy: Easy to do! Serves 4, using fries and curds from above.
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup beef broth (OR 2 cups beef broth)
- Melt butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the pepper, whisk to combine.
- Slowly add in 1/4 cup of flour, constantly whisking to combine. After a minute or two of whisking the mixture will be thick.
- Pour the broth slowly into the flour mixture, whisking constantly, until smooth and well blended. Continue to cook for several minutes, until thickened.
- Toss together the hot fries with curds in an oven proof dish or skillet. Pour gravy on top and return to the oven for a minute or two to let the cheese melt even more.
More about my favorite Canadian province?