We have a Canadian house guest coming to stay this week, Disneyboi’s cousin Lawrence from Toronto. Lawrence is quite a character and has led an amazing life. Being born in Broughty Ferry then moving over to Canada at an early age, he remains proud of his Scottish roots. His life in Canada seems very glamorous. Starting out in Montreal, he then found himself in Toronto, where he worked for one of the nation’s most popular TV stations, our equivalent of the BBC.
This week, in honour of Lawrence coming to visit, I am making a couple of Canadian inspired recipes.
Back in 2007, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for which Lawrence worked, ran a TV miniseries entitled 'The Greatest Canadian Invention'. Unsurprisingly, it invited viewers to phone in and vote for the best Canadian inventions of all time. Topping the list were the usual suspects of insulin, the telephone (although we Scots may dispute that strongly!) and the light bulb.
However, sneaking into the back door at number 10 was the nation’s most popular dish – poutine. For the uninitiated, poutine consists of a base of French fries, topped with generous amounts of cheese curds and then smothered in a deliciously thick gravy sauce. For what on the face of it sounds like a simple dish, it’s astounding that this invention, if you can call it that, edged out other innovations such as the alkaline battery, perspex or something I owned in my childhood, the Walkie-Talkie.
Don’t ever make the mistake of telling a Canadian their national dish is nothing more than chips, cheese and gravy, as apparently you’re likely to receive a lengthy tongue-bashing. Similarly, don’t underestimate the nuances which go into making this dish such a tasty and satisfying one. Mess up one of the holy trinity of ingredients and the whole meal is ruined. Montreal, where Lawrence grew up, is home to the finest poutine to be found worldwide, but short of shooting across the Atlantic Ocean to pick some up, here are a few tips on how you can best emulate the Quebecois speciality yourself.
The French fries constitute the building blocks of the dish. In order to make a really successful poutine, you’ll need your chips to be crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. They can’t be too fat or too thick, since the gravy needs to be able to infiltrate their layers and permeate the lower ranks.
In order to achieve such perfection yourself, you’ll need to cook the potatoes twice over – once on a low heat to soften up the insides, then a second time on a high heat to crispen up the exterior and attain that extra crunch. Ideally, you’ll freeze in between in order to avoid compromising the interior on the second cook… but really - who has time for that? McCain have done all the hard work for you, cooking their French fries first time round to achieve the pillowy softness inside, so all you need to do is pop them in a pan for a few minutes and voila! Perfect poutine fries every time.
They say that a poutine which doesn’t use real cheese curds is not a poutine at all. Unfortunately, these can be a little difficult to get hold of outside of Canada, turning this step into potentially the hardest of them all. The cheese section of certain supermarkets, such as Waitrose have them, but Waitrose are rarer than sightings of the Loch Ness monster up here in Scotland, so I had to improvise!
As an emergency substitute, fresh mozzarella doesn’t hold up too badly. Expect to use one whole ball of mozzarella per diner (yes, that is a lot of cheese but I'm imagining you won’t be eating poutine every day) and chop it up into pieces around the size of a 50p piece. Alternatively, go for a bag of pre-grated mozzarella, which melts beautifully with the heat of the fries and gravy, speaking of which…
With the ability to make or break your dish, the gravy is arguably the most important ingredient in a poutine. It needs to be both robust and flavourful enough to contribute an extra oomph to the dish, but not too overpowering that it drowns out the other ingredients.
If you have plenty of time, there’s really no substitute for a good homemade gravy. Ideally you’ll be using stock made from real meat juices, but this is more than likely dependent on whether you’ve cooked a roast meal in the preceding days. If using shop-bought stock, you can still come up with a delicious gravy such as the one described by food.com which doesn’t take too much effort and will complement your poutine beautifully. Just try not to resort to instant gravy! It has the potential to destroy all of your hard work and ruin a perfectly good poutine.
My poutine turned out lovely, just like I tried in Toronto a few years ago, when visiting Lawrence. We hope to be re-visiting him and his lovely wife Emmy later this year for a bit of a special occasion, but I shall keep you up to date about that. But for now, go and enjoy some poutine!
Disclosure Statement: This is a sponsored post for which I have received renumeration.