Rewards Network correspondent Matthew Griffith braved the snow and chill of a February Chicago Sunday to attend the 3rd Annual Poutinefest. What is poutine, you may ask? Read on…
Oh, poutine, you magical, delectable dish from the Great White North — full of crisp, gooey, silky richness. If I could marry a food item, you would be it. Beautiful Canadian fries with melted Cheddar cheese curds, smothered in mildly spiced beef gravy, you complete me.
Few words in the English language elicit such an emotion from foodies as “poutine,” a French-Canadian dish once considered the height of disturbingly unhealthy junk food. Today, American chefs are crafting dozens of gourmet versions of this classic dish, constructing new homages to a near perfect food at every turn. Sloppy Joe poutine. Jalapeño sweet potato poutine. Quail egg and roasted beet poutine with truffle shavings. Amazing. But do we really need a low-cal poutine?
Of course, the genius of genuine poutine is in its simplicity. Three ingredients, each more engaging to the palate than the last, combine to make something greater than its parts.
Perfectly chosen Yukon Gold potatoes, hand-cut strands in the perfect width to crisp the outer edges in the deep fryer, while remaining fluffy on the inside. The foundation of this pinnacle of perfection, well-executed French fries form the base of everything that comes next. Mass-produced shoestring fries or thick potato wedges are not acceptable alternatives.
The cheese curds.
If they don’t squeak when you bite into them, they aren’t real curds separated from the whey. At room temperature, cheese curds will have a springy, almost rubbery texture, but will soften slightly when doused in warm gravy and sprinkled atop freshly cooked fries. If your cheese is melting down between the other two ingredients, you might have been passed a mozzarella or Gruyère poutine, and that’s just not quite the same.
This isn’t your mom’s lumpy beef gravy. Poutine gravy should be light, rich, and delicate enough to filter down the entire dish and leave a thin coating of flavor on the surface of each fry. Some recipes are two-thirds beef stock and one-third chicken. Others use veal stock for a subtler flavor. No matter your chef’s inclination, a perfectly-executed poutine gravy will have a subtle peppercorn tang and a depth of flavor that will make your taste buds sing in gratitude.
Sounds simple, right? So it’s easy to see why poutine is popping up on restaurant menus here in the U.S. But why are so many American chefs putting their own spin on such a simple concept?
The answer may be as simple as “How can they not?” Combine American ingenuity with a Canadian classic and you just might have a recipe for greatness. And I’m certainly willing to eat my way through an investigation until I uncover the truth.
Ready to explore your own stomping grounds for new and exciting cuisine?