French fries, cheese curds & gravy… oh my! Check out the history behind one of the Living Room’s most-loved dishes!!!
[Pictured above: The LR’s “Crack-a-Poutine,” topped with an over-easy egg]
Here’s the deal, according to Wikipedia:
“Poutine (pron.: /puːˈtiːn/; French: [putin], Quebec French:[put͡sɪn] ( listen)) is a Quebec dish, made with french fries, topped with brown gravy and curd cheese. Sometimes additional ingredients are added.
“Poutine is a fast food dish that originated in Quebec and can now be found across Canada, and is also found in some places in the northern United States. It is sold by national and international fast food chains, in small “greasy spoon” type diners (commonly known as “cantines” or “casse-croûtes” in Quebec) and pubs, as well as by roadside chip wagons (commonly known as “cabanes à patates”, literally meaning “potato shacks”). Poutine may also contain other ingredients such as beef, pulled pork, lamb, lobster meat, shrimp, rabbit confit, caviar, and truffles.
“The dish originated in rural Quebec, Canada, in the late 1950s. Several Québécois communities claim to be the birthplace of poutine, including Drummondville (by Jean-Paul Roy in 1964), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville. One often-cited tale is that of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that poutine was invented there in 1957; Lachance is said to have exclaimed ça va faire une maudite poutine (“it will make a damn mess”), hence the name. The sauce was allegedly added later, to keep the fries warm longer. Over time the dish’s popularity spread mainly across the province (and later throughout Canada), often served in small town restaurants, bars, as well as being quite popular in ski resorts.
“While the exact provenance of the word “poutine” is uncertain, some of its meanings undoubtedly result at least in part from the influence of the English word pudding. Among its various culinary senses, that of “a dessert made from flour or bread crumbs” most clearly shows this influence; the word pouding, borrowed from the English pudding, is in fact a synonym in this sense. The pejorative meaning “fat person” of poutine (used especially in speaking of a woman) is believed to derive from the English pudding “a person or thing resembling a pudding” or “stout thick-set person”.
“The Dictionnaire historique mentions the possibility that the form poutine is simply a gallicization of the word pudding. However, it considers it more likely that it was inherited from regional languages spoken in France, and that some of its meanings resulted from the later influence of the similar-sounding English word pudding. It cites the Provençal forms poutingo “bad stew” and poutité “hodgepodge” or “crushed fruit or foods”; poutringo “mixture of various things” in Languedocien; and poutringue, potringa “bad stew” in Franche-Comté as possibly related to poutine. The meaning “fries with cheese and gravy” of poutine is among those held as probably unrelated to pudding provided the latter view is correct.
“In the basic recipe for poutine, French fries are covered with fresh cheese curds, and topped with brown gravy. In a Quebec poutine:
Fries: Usually of medium thickness, and fried (sometimes doubly) so that the inside stays soft, while the outside is crunchy.
Cheese curds: Fresh cheese curds are used to give the desired texture. The curd size may vary but is usually slightly smaller than bite-sized.
Gravy: Generally a light and thin chicken, veal, or turkey gravy, mildly spiced with a hint of pepper, or a sauce brune which is a combination of beef and chicken stock, a variant originating in Quebec. The gravy should be thin enough to easily filter down into the mass of fries and cheese curds. These sauces typically also contain vinegar or a sour flavouring to balance the richness of the cheese and fries. Traditional poutine sauces (mélange à sauce poutine) are sold in Quebec, Ontario, and Maritime grocery stores in jars or cans and in powdered mix packets.
“Heavy beef or pork-based brown gravies are rarely used. To maintain the texture of the fries, the cheese curd and gravy are added immediately prior to serving the dish. The hot gravy is usually poured over the cold cheese curds, so that the cheese is warmed without completely melting. It is important to control the temperature, timing and the order in which the ingredients are added, so as to obtain the right food textures which is an essential part of the experience of eating poutine.
“There are many variations of poutine. Some restaurants offer poutine with such additions as chicken, bacon, or Montreal-style smoked meat. Some such restaurants even boast a dozen or more variations of poutine. For instance, more upscale poutine with three-pepper sauce, Merguez sausage, foie gras or even caviar and truffle can be found. Some variations eliminate the cheese, but most francophone Quebecers would call such a dish a “frite sauce” (“french fries with sauce”) rather than poutine. Shawinigan and some other regions have Patate-sauce-choux where shredded raw cabbage replaces cheese. Fast food combination meals in Canada often have the option of getting french fries “poutinized” by adding cheese curds (or shredded cheese in the Prairies and Western Canada) and gravy.
“Outside Canada, poutine is found in northern border regions of the United States such as New England, the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest. These regions offer further variations of the basic dish. Cheeses other than fresh curds are commonly used (most commonly mozzarella cheese), along with beef, brown or turkey gravy. In the county culture especially, a mixed fry can also come with cooked ground beef on top and is referred to as a hamburger mix, though this is less popular than a regular mix.”