Yep, I said it, but I’d love to be proven wrong. During Poutine Week here in Calgary, Alberta, I’m on a mission to find real poutine. Poutine is arguably the most Canadian dish ever invented. I lived in Quebec for 5 years and ate poutine at least every 5 days so naturally I’d love to talk a bit about the dish.
We all know poutine was invented in la belle province. Which town, Drummondville, Victoriaville or some other town is debatable, but we do know is that it was around 1950 in rural Quebec. It’s no surprise because the 3 main ingredients: cheese, potatoes and gravy are all undeniably French. Les Quebecois love and make great cheese, awesome brown gravy (possibly due to their love of rotisserie chicken) and uh, superior French fried potatoes. Yes, poutine is Canadian, but distinctly Quebecois.
Today, there are poutines with a variety of ingredients: wedges, eggs, shredded cheese, blue cheese, fries supreme, pulled pork and BBQ sauce and many other variations. While these inspired variations are great in their own way; many days and the occasional late-night, I long for a traditional poutine. The type of poutine that I have, sadly, never found outside Quebec. Sorry Canada. I’m talking the type of poutine you can pick up late night in Montreal, or at the small town hockey rinks and cantines in rural Quebec. It’s hard to believe why I have yet to find a great traditional poutine outside Quebec, because honestly like most amazing food in life, poutine requires a few simple ingredients to be done right.
Ideally fresh, but I’ve had great poutines with frozen fries, just as long as they are at least a bit crispy. Avoid shoestring fries and they ultimately mustn’t be those British style soggy chips with a side of crispy fish. Most poutine attempts outside Quebec mess this up the least, probably because it’s the easiest to not mess up.
Gravy (Sauce Brune)
This may sound weird, but the gravy should almost seem “refreshing”. It provides flavour but acts as a vehicle to wash down the fries and cheese. You’ll know what I mean once you have a real poutine. The biggest issues I see with gravy outside Quebec: too thick, too dark, too much overpowering and salty. Gravy should never be the consistency of ketchup.
Cheese curds (Fromage en Grains)
I’m convinced the biggest reason you can’t get a good poutine outside of Quebec is because nobody is making cheese curds on the daily, and consuming them day of like they do in Quebec. Stop at any gas station in Quebec, even the big national chains, and you will see they have pouches of cheese curds that were made that day. They are right next to the debit machine on the counter, I kid you not! And the thing is, these cheese curds after being made, can be kept at room temp for only a day. After that, they must be refrigerated, and once that happens, it ruins the texture. So even cheese curds brought in from Quebec as exclaimed by so many restaurants are no longer perfect #sorrynotsorry. We need to start making them here, locally as Albertans, or start serving up poutine with local cheese curds made day of. You know you are having a fresh curd when it is firm and squeaks between your teeth. This is paramount for the textural experience and superior flavour.
How can we call poutine a Canadian dish, when the only place it’s done right is Quebec? I may seem cynical, but I am hopeful to find a traditional poutine outside Quebec. It’s really not too challenging, and there must be at least one Calgarian inspired by the beautiful poutines in Quebec who is creating them out here. I will be trying as many poutines as possible during poutine week. Am I destined to find a real one? I sure hope so.
Is there a place for poutine here that I’m missing out on, please let me know!