You know, you always have to approach the breathless excitement about an iconic dish with some scepticism. Whether it’s a Hot Brown sandwich or a Philly Cheese Steak, nostalgia and pride of place usually weigh heavily in the fierce loyalties of the dishes’ supporters.
So, the other night, when I spied the French Canadian favorite – poutine – on a Charlotte menu I knew two things: a. I finally had to try it and b. I might be disappointed, but at only around $7, that wasn’t much of a risk.
We had just come from watching the Charlotte Roller Girls bout – a guilty pleasure if ever there is one. I figured why not continue the theme and order what is known as a heart attack in a dish. To guild that guilty lily, I added a pile of braised short ribs to the top of the jumble.
Poutine (pronounced pou-tin, like Vladimir’s last name) looks simple on paper. A pile of fries, topped with cheese curds, than covered in hot beef gravy. Apparently, poutine is available in fast-food joints all over Canada these days. But it just started catching on around here last year.
All I can say is – it’s about time. Whoa! Like all the best dishes, the basic ingredients melted and melded into an astonishing concoction that fired my tasting synapsis left and right.
I would not recommend you eat poutine often. It is the stuff of college days, when high metabolisms and activity levels are needed to counteract its decadence. That said, I will have it again, at least three more times this year. I will mark it on my calendar. And I will make it at home.
You can get cheese curds around here, now. Time Flies, the general store in Mount Holly, carries Ashe County curds. Trader Joe’s also has them. Don’t substitute regular cheese. You need the squeaky firmness of the curds to make this dish at its best.
By all means, use frozen french fries – the thin type, not those doughy sawed-tooth things. But you absolutely have to deep fry them. Why try to cut calories on this dish?
And yes, in a pinch, canned beef gravy will do. But it’s simple to make your own and since you use so much of it, shouldn’t it be fresh?
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups beef stock
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups frozen french fries of your choice
8 oz. cheese curds, at room temperature
Heat the shortening and oil to 375 degrees in a large, heavy bottomed pan.
While the oil is heating, make the gravy.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the shallot and garlic and cook and stir another 2 minutes, until shallot is softened. Add the stock, ketchup and vinegar. Bring to boil and stir until gravy thickens, about 6 minutes. (You want the gravy to be rather thick.) Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Cover and keep warm over low heat while you cook the fries.
Cook the fries according to package directions. Drain briefly on paper towels, then transfer them to four bowls. Top with cheese curds, then pour hot gravy over the dish. Serve immediately.