It used to be a comfort food only found in Canada, but poutine is now a popular treat that can be found all over, from diners to even the trendiest restaurants. Poutine consists of a base of chips that is topped with cheese curds and covered with gravy. While several variations exist, there is a widely accepted art to making the perfect poutine, and it all comes down to the ingredients, particularly the cheese.
The history of poutine is somewhat ambiguous, with no one person or restaurant being able to lay claim to the dish. The earliest known origins can be attributed to Fernand LaChance of Warwick, Quebec, who in 1957, responded to a customer's request for chips and cheese curds with "Ca va faire une maudite poutine," or "That's going to make a damn mess." In 1964, Jean-Paul Roy of Roy le Jucep restaurant in Drummond, Quebec, reportedly topped the concoction with gravy, thus creating poutine as it is known today.
Anatomy of poutine
Poutine certainly earns its messy reputation. This Canadian comfort food creation starts with a foundation of crispy, fresh chips. These chips are then topped with a serving of fresh cheese curds. Next, the entire dish is covered with a light poultry or veal gravy. While some variations may use pork or beef gravy, these gravies are rarely used for traditional poutine. The dish is served immediately to maintain the crispiness of the chips and avoid sogginess.
The Cheese Curd
Cheese curds are the traditional topping for Canadian poutine. Fresh cheese curds are known for their telltale squeak that can be heard while chewing. This squeaking is a result of the high humidity in the cheese. Cheese curds are the product of cheddar cheese before it has been aged. The fresher the cheese, the better in the case of cheese curds. Cheese curds come in putty-like chunks and are best eaten within a few days of purchase, before they have a chance to dry out.
While traditional poutine consists of chips, gravy and cheese curds, a wealth of varieties exist. A popular variation in Quebec is Poutine Italianne, which substitutes marinara for the gravy. In the southern United States, a variation of poutine is put in po'boys, with chips topped with debris gravy, or gravy made from the remains of the roast beef used for roast beef po'boys. Because it can be difficult to find fresh cheese curds, you can substitute cheeses with a light flavour and that melt well, such as mozzarella cheese or Monterey Jack.