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In Tucson, Arizona, dozens of tiny Mexican restaurants stay open all night to serve Sonoran street food to drunk youth. The counters sport open buckets of horchata that you laddle out, and there are chimichangas the size of your head for $5. That is where you eat often, but especially after the bar.

Needless to say, that is not the post-bar food situation in Canada. I would have been really disappointed when I discovered that, except I got to learn about whole new terrible food–the jewel of Eastern Canada. Yes, I am talking about poutine.

Poutine (poo-teen) is basically french fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy, though there are variations on that theme. The important thing is, it is the best invention ever. How it has not swept the globe is beyond me, because its merits are so obvious: the gravy melts the cheese curds, and you end up with a salty, gooey, delicious mess. You can get it everywhere in Canada (and some parts of the States), and it’s cheap as hell.

I never got to taste “real” poutine (the gravy is made with chicken or beef broth) but the Internet is full of information that I gather like some weird little cooking ant:

You make a roux. You add broth and pepper. You put it on the french fries and cheese. Pretty straight forward.

Like I’ve said, I don’t know you. You might be someone who needs like eight cups of gravy–that’s none of my business. So, I’m just going to give you the ratios and you can figure out what you need.  

To make any gravy or cream sauce, this is all you need to know:

          • 1-2 tbsp fat (oil or margarine)
          • 1-2 tbsp flour
          • 1 c liquid

Use the higher end of fat and flour for thicker sauces, the lower end for thinner (poutine gravy is typically thinner). When in doubt, err on the higher side.

The poutine you make will depend on what you choose for the liquid.

Regular Poutine: the ratio above with fake beef broth as the liquid and a few shakes of cheap, pre-ground pepper. A couple shakes of onion powder is good, but optional.

Fancy Poutine: the ratio above with 3/4 fake chicken broth and 1/4 dry white wine as the liquid. No pepper necessary, but you do need fresh green onions to top it.

Before you start making the gravy, get your frozen fries baking and your fake cheese diced to about 1 cm squared (Daiya, Veganrella, and Vegan Gourmet all work–just go for relatively mild cheese). This is smaller than the traditional cheese curds, but fake cheese doesn’t melt as well in this scenario, so smaller is better.

Cook your roux in a pan on low for a bit. It shouldn’t be browned, but you have to give it at least 5 minutes so the flour gets cooked (this improves the flavor). Whisk in your liquid, turn the heat up until the mixture boils, then down to simmer for a bit (whisking often). Cook it down until it reaches the desired consistency, adding your pepper early in the process if you like more spiciness, later if you like less spiciness.

Poutine is usually made with “floor sweeping” pepper: the cheap pre-ground kind (hence the recommendation above). It’s apparently called floor sweeping pepper because back when pepper was novel and difficult to come by, pepper sellers would try to rip you off by cutting the pepper with other things (like other plant material and floor sweepings). Cheaper pepper was more likely to include floor grit. I like pre-ground pepper for poutine gravy because it’s weaker, so contributes the right flavor without being overwhelming.

When the gravy is cooked, assemble like so: fries, cheese, gravy. Top with sliced green onions if you’re doing the fancy version. Aim for a ratio roughly like this, with maybe a little less cheese.

That’s it! Easy, cheap, and profoundly satisfying after a night out. Certainly safer than trying to drunk deep-fry yourself something.

Now, since I’ve shared Canada’s secret with you, would you return the favor and contribute to my food learning? What is your region’s classic post-bar food?

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