Exploring Poutine: History, Recipes, and Fun Variations

Updated on July 24, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Poutine is the unofficial food of Quebec.
Poutine is the unofficial food of Quebec. | Source

Ça va faire une maudite poutine (It’s going to make a damn mess!)

— Resautanteur Fernand Lachance, owner/operator of Lutin Qui Rit

Who's Responsible for This Mess?

In the heart of the province of Quebec is the county of Arthabaska. The name is derived from the Cree word Ayabaskaw, meaning “place waters meet.” It is indeed an idyllic spot with pristine waterways, rich fertile soil, and massive sugar-maple trees. It is here that Fernand LaChance opened the restaurant Lutin Qui Rit (English translation: “The Laughing Leprechaun”) in Warwick, Arthabaska.

One day in 1957, a truck driver named Eddy Lainesse ordered a “to go” bag of pomme frites. To this day no one knows for certain his state of mind. Was he ravenously hungry, in need of a hangover cure, or simply mad? He asked to have the fries adorned with cheese curds—certainly a significant moment in food (lore) history. Or was it?

Another restauranteur, Jean-Paul Roy has attested that in 1964 some of his regular customers began adding cheese curds to their orders of fries and gravy. Monkey-see, monkey-do—other customers began to mimic them, and so Mr. Roy added the dish to his menu.

Who are we to believe?

According to the National Post, soon after receiving that odd culinary request from Eddy the truck driver, Mr. LaChance (of the Laughing Leprechaun) began serving the dish in his restaurant, not in to-go bags but on plates (to contain the mess?) When told that the fries too quickly got cold, he added gravy to the mix. And the rest, my friends, is history.

Fried potatoes, fatty gravy, and cheese—doesn’t this sound like heart-attack-on-a-plate? I am cautious, and allow myself this indulgence only once (or twice) a year. However, Mr. Lachance’s family says that once the dish became a “thing” he ate it at least once a week.

He died at the age of 86. Perhaps I should rethink my self-imposed dietary restrictions.

What about you? Would you like to learn how to make poutine?

The Components

In the basic recipe for poutine, French fries are covered with fresh cheese curds and topped with brown gravy.

Source

French Fries

To replicate the Laughing Leprechaun poutine you will need flawlessly fried potatoes. That perfect fry is cooked twice, and the perfect potato for that fry is the russet, otherwise known as the Idaho potato. Trust me, nothing else will do.

In a pinch, frozen fries, baked in the oven will suffice, but if you want to make your own, my friend Kenji at Serious Eats has deconstructed the perfect French fry. I’m an admitted food nerd and love reading about the science of what we eat. If you are curious about Kenji’s journey to find fry nirvana, click here, otherwise, the link to the recipe is given below. Note that this is a two-step cooking process that requires an overnight rest in the freezer.

Equipment Needed

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cups
  • Two large rimmed baking sheets
  • Paper towels
  • Large saucepan
  • Clip-on cooking thermometer
  • Wire-mesh spider (skimmer)
  • Freezer-safe container or freezer-safe zip-lock plastic storage bags
  • Large mixing/serving bowl

Simply click on Ingredients and Instructions to get the recipe.

Cheese curds
Cheese curds | Source

Cheese Curds

Once upon a time, there was a Middle East vagabond, a nomad who set out on a journey through the desert. Just before departing, he poured some fresh milk into his bag. After several hours the man was thirsty and so opened the bag to sip some milk. However, he found that the milk was no longer liquid; it had curdled. Do you know why? The bag was fashioned from the stomach of a calf and, therefore, the inside of the bag contained rennin. Rennin is an enzyme which is still used today in the cheese-making process and because of the desert heat the curds formed quickly. According to legend, this was the birth of cheese curds.

To have the proper moisture, texture and “squeak” the curds for poutine must be fresh. As air and moisture dissipate, the proteins in the curds lose their elasticity and the distinctive stretch. If you live near a dairy or cheesemaker, you might be able to score some fresh curds. If not, don’t despair. Fresh mozzarella is not a perfect substitute, but it will suffice.

Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own. This recipe for cheese curds from the New England Cheese Making Supply Company explains exactly what you need.

A word of warning—when you make poutine, don’t use cheese straight from the refrigerator. In order to melt properly, the curds must be at room temperature.

Brown gravy
Brown gravy | Source

Brown Gravy

I love luxurious, rich and thick gravy, but for poutine “slim is in.” The gravy should be slightly thinner than what you might desire for a mound of mashed potatoes because the magic of poutine is how the gravy seeps down, warming and slightly melting the curds and then enveloping the fries. Quebec poutine gravy is not based on beef or chicken, but rather a combination of the two.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium beef stock
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup stout beer (or use more beef stock)
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beef stock, chicken stock, ketchup, stout beer, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, about 6 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe by Half Baked Harvest.

Fun Variations

Sweet potato poutine
Sweet potato poutine | Source

Sweet Potato Poutine

I chose this recipe because my older daughter loves sweet potato fries. If you love the yin-yang of sweet and salty and are new to poutine, this might be the perfect place for you to start your poutine journey. "I Say Nomato" provides photographs and step-by-step instructions on how to make perfectly crisp (not floppy) sweet potato fries.

Tater tot poutine
Tater tot poutine | Source

Tater Tot Poutine

My friends in Canada will no doubt decry this as a sacrilege. I'm truly sorry. But for the rest of us, tater tots are a guilty pleasure and a near-perfect vehicle for cheese curds and poutine gravy. Real House Moms provide the recipe for tater tot poutine.

Breakfast poutine
Breakfast poutine | Source

Breakfast Poutine

I have already alienated my Canadian friends, so I proceed fearlessly with this next offering—tater tots topped with sausage gravy and a perfectly executed runny-yolk fried egg. This would perhaps best be consumed as one's last meal. Nutritionally it is a bit of a risk (20 grams of carbohydrates, 53 grams of fat, 293 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,309 milligrams sodium), but oh, what a way to go! Allison Miller is the photographer/creator of this breakfast poutine.

Source

Vegan Poutine

I can hear your thoughts—two-thirds of poutine is an animal product, how can there possibly be a vegan version? The creator of the blog "It Doesn't Take Like Chicken" tells us how to make vegan cheese that stretches just like a real cheese curd and gravy that is so rich and savory you won't miss the beef and chicken broths. Thanks to Sam Turnbull for her amazing vegan poutine.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum

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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Shauna, you simply must have poutine at least once before you die. Yes, tots are the perfect food aren't they? No apologies needed for being busy. I'm just glad you're here.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        3 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Linda, I've never had poutine. I've eaten cheese curds by themselves and have been eating french fries and brown gravy since I was about 18. After closing the bars, my friends and I would head for the nearest all night diner and chow down on fries and brown gravy. So yummy!

        All of these recipes look delicious. I'm especially drawn to the tots version. Tots are just about the perfect tater, in my opinion.

        Sorry I'm late to the party and bouncing all over the place. Once again, I'm so far behind in my reading that I'll never catch up if I go in the order received. Ah, such is life!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        MizB, if you REALLY want to see something horrifying, you need should watch "Carnival Eats" (on the Food Network). I agree with you about the current mac and cheese craze. I've also seen it on pizza.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        3 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        I did enjoy it, Linda. Your articles are always enlightening and entertaining. Lately I've seen some really atrocious foods at fast food joints though. (Atrocious to me, anyway.) Right now the nauseating fad seems to be macaroni and cheese on hamburgers. Poutine seems to be tame compared to that.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Ah ha! I followed basically this notion with Tuna last night. I normally make enough food for at least another meal. No chance last night. We all happily committed to a good swim and walk today. hihihi. I just love what you "bring to the table", Linda.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        MixBejabbers I know a few people who have had their gall bladders removed and the pain they describe pre-surgery is horrifying. I can certainly understand your reason for shunning this recipe.

        I hope you at least enjoyed the brief history lesson. Thanks for stopping by.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        Linda, as a person who had her gall bladder removed at age 23, I say NO WAY! It's just too much fat for this old lady to attempt to digest. Many of our local yuppie restaurants around here serve a version of cheese fries, but since I don't order them, I don't know if they have the gravy on them. Thanks, I'll takes my fries plain with salt and ketchup. (My old standby) Lovely description though. P.S. Love sweet potato fries, but I take them lightly salted and plain.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Thanks Eric. Honestly, I think any cheese that you love would work on this.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Linda I had no idea this was a "dish or recipe". I reckon I figured people just did it. Walking and bike riding deals with the funny issues. pulling up a potato and frying it seems as normal as breathing. I just do Mozzerala it is not the option. Curds and Tofu seem strange.

        Fantastic as always.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, there is one thing I can rely on in this world--that you will be totally unpredictable. I was certain that you would give two thumbs down on this. Leave it to you to upset the apple cart once again.

        Yes, it is an indulgence, but a mighty tasty one.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        I was going to say NO WAY until I saw the ingredients. Now I'm thinking I just might like this heart attack dish. lol There is no hope for me,Linda, none at all. :)

        Have a brilliant day, my friend. Loving those clouds.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I have a confession to make. The cheese curds are pretty darned good (and yes, it is a regional thing), but once I had poutine made with Gorgonzola cheese and it was mind-blowing! Darn, it's 9:30 at night and I want me some poutine. {{sigh}}

        I can hardly wait for billybuc's comments.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        I’m too scared to try this but I will try that vegan onion gravy. Poutine is a truly unique offering. I’ve never tried it although it has all the sinful ingredients. I can understand the gravy and potatoes but the cheese curds have never made sense to me. Perhaps it’s just one of those regional specialties that appeal particularly to specific populations.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, my mission here is done (hahaha). I'm an avowed nerd when it comes to food history. I just love researching the how, when, and where of our food. I'm glad to hear that someone else enjoys it.

        Wish you were here. I'm thinking it's frightfully hot where you are.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        4 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I have to say I have never given a thought to poutine or cheese curds Linda. However, I am familiar with sausage gravy and tater tots, although I haven't had them lately. I will try your gravy recipe and consider all this valuable information you have included in this article. It seems I always learn something new from you.

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