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How to Make Perfect Poutine, Canada's Most Famous Food

Christy learned the art and science of cooking from her Southern kin. Her cooking secrets aren't secrets because she shares them freely.

Think "Canada." What comes to mind? Snow, politeness, and poutine, eh?

I grew up in the South, where nobody had heard of poutine, four inches of snow was a major event, and “cheese curds” were those little bits of solid milk at the bottom of a way-too-old jug of milk. (Super-appetizing opening statement, right?)

Then I moved to Minnesota—which is basically Canada South.

It turns out cheese curds are a real thing. Poutine is real, too: gravy over fries and cheese curds.

“Gravy on fries? Gross!”

But I do love gravy on mashed potatoes. What’s the difference?

The difference, it turns out, is amazing. The mixture of carbs, grease, and cheese makes poutine the tastiest side dish ever. It also makes it the best morning-after food.

Throw in some Andouille sausage—there’s my Southern coming out!—and it goes from a Canadian snack to an international-cuisine meal.

Read on for directions and suggestions to dial it up even more.

The tl;dr

Too long, didn’t read? No problem.

  • Pour beef gravy over fries and cheese curds. Meat is optional.
  • Super easy. Super quick.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

15 min

25 min

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fries
  • 1/2 pound cheese curds
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder (optional)

Instructions

  1. Spread the fries in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake at 350°F for 15–20 minutes, until they are golden brown.
  2. While the fries are baking, melt the butter in a saucepan or skillet. Whisk in the flour.
  3. Over medium-low heat, cook the roux for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it turns golden brown. Slowly add the broth, whisking to dissolve the roux completely.
  4. Add the pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and optional onion powder. Bring to a low boil and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency.
  5. Serve the fries, top with cheese curds, and pour the gravy over everything.

Notes and Substitutions

You might have trouble finding cheese curds outside of Canada and the Upper Midwest. Substitute chunks of mozzarella. Don't use shredded mozzarella; you want a cheese that melts a little bit but is still mostly solid.

Once you have basic poutine down, try adding whatever sounds good. No one will say you're doing it wrong—Canadians are far too polite.

Possible Additions:

  • Crumbled bacon
  • Andouille or Italian sausage
  • Sliced kielbasa or Polish sausage
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Jalapeños
  • Eggs (scrambled, boiled, or fried)
  • Sour cream

The Waffle House Rule for Substitutions:

Think about it this way: If Waffle House can add it to hash browns, you can add it to poutine.

Other Substitutions:

  • Use chicken or vegetable gravy instead of beef gravy.
  • Use sweet potato fries.

What Are Cheese Curds?

Cheese curds are chunks of cheddar before they’ve been formed into wheels and aged.

The first step in cheese-making is adding rennet or another curdling agent. The rennet causes the solids to clump together, and whey—a grey liquid with water, lactic acid, casein, and other byproducts—drains off.

The result looks like a giant sheet of yogurt, which is sliced into chunks for different types of cheese. Some is packaged fresh as cottage cheese. Curds for hard cheeses like cheddar are sliced into very small pieces, drained further, and shaped into wheels for aging.

But then something magical happens. Those curds destined to become cheddar are actually quite edible. Large chunks are packaged up and sold as cheese curds. They’re greasy and squeaky. (They’re supposed to be that way—greasy, squeaky curds haven’t gone bad.)

Fresh Is best!

In Wisconsin, America’s dairyland, cheese curds are kept warm and must be sold within a day or discarded. They should be fresh! In other states, they are refrigerated or vacuum-packed and might sit on the shelf for a couple of weeks. Others are breaded and deep-fried—but this obscures the cheesy taste. Fast-food deep-fried cheese is the lowest form of cheese curds.

For poutine, you want the freshest available. If you can’t get them fresh, use packaged curds or a soft cheese like mozzarella chunks (not shredded).

Cheese Curd Color

Why are some curds white and others are orange? Because some are dyed.

Historically, cheddar cheese was orange because the Jersey and Guernsey cows in southwestern England and Cornwall ate grass containing high amounts of beta-carotene, the same pigment that makes carrots orange and pink flamingoes pink.

The beta-carotene carried through to the high-fat milk and then to the cheese as a yellowish color. This became characteristic of high-quality cheese from Cheddar, in particular. (Incidentally, goats process beta-carotene before it enters the milk, so goat cheese is always white.)

Later, cheesemakers using milk from other cows in other regions—or using low-fat milk, after the cream was skimmed off and sold—dyed their cheese to make it look high-quality. In other words, the darkest orange colors were a fraud.

Now, most cheddar is naturally white unless it’s dyed. We’ve become so accustomed to orange that we think white cheddar is something different—but it’s simply cheddar that hasn’t been dyed.

There. That’s a much more satisfying answer to “What are cheese curds?” than “What Little Miss Muffet eats.”

Where Did Poutine Come From?

Poutine started as bar or pub food in 1950s Quebec. It was also served in “greasy spoon” diners. Poutine is the Quebecois slang word for "mess." Tradition says that the chef who was first asked to make it said, “Ça va faire une maudite poutine.” In English, “It will make a damn mess!”

It spread from Quebec to become, in effect, Canada’s national dish. It was so good that it even spilled over into the northern U.S., from where it’s rippling across the country.

It has gone from bars to food trucks to fast food places. But if you can’t find it, don“t worry. It’s easy to make at home.

Sources

“What Is Poutine?” The Spruce Eats.

“How Is Cheese Made?” The Spruce Eats.

“6 Things You Might Not Know About Cheese Curds,” Allrecipes.com.

“How 17th-Century Fraud Gave Rise to Bright-Orange Cheese,” NPR.

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