Poutine – A Québec Classic

To fully understand Poutine, we decided we had to eat our way through Québec and try various creations.   We made the obligatory stop at Chez AshTon to set the bar and then proceeded to Snack Bar on St. Jean. Open until 5am, Snack Bar knows how to handle the early morning munchies or late night recovery. We then went by one of the newest spots, La Fabrique Montcalm, which specializes in gastronomic creativity using such toppings as duck, braised beef, pork, and even sweetbreads.

Our next stop was Le Chic Shack, located in the Old City, on top of the hill near the funiculaire, and in the same building as the Musee du Fort. Here, they offer four amped up versions of Poutine as well as the more traditional. The fries are rough cut and large while the gravy is pleasantly mild in taste, but the accompaniments are the reason to come here for the dish. There was a version called La Braisée consisting of braised beef, cheese curds, Parmesan cheese, aioli, and herbed fries.

A very popular spot for Poutine - Le Chic Shack

A very popular spot for Poutine – Le Chic Shack

La Braisée at Le Chic Shack

La Braisée at Le Chic Shack

La Fumee was composed of smoked meat, pepper sauce for the gravy, cheese curds, and pickled onions. Lastly, and our favorite, was La Forestière. This dish was held together with a beef with wild mushroom ragout, shallots, Parmesan, and fresh cheese curds. Delicious.

La Forestière

La Forestière

We thought we had experienced the heights of Poutine until we dined at Le Sam, the bistro in the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. The restaurant overlooks the St. Lawrence River and like a fortress, it stands guard over the city below. White table clothes, fine wine glasses, and a formal place setting say this restaurant is special. It was time to dine fine… on Poutine.

Chef prepared his version of Poutine that included three cheeses as well as foie gras. It is common for chefs to incorporate the finest ingredients from the surrounding area in their dishes and foie gras is one of the best-loved ingredients from the Québec region. Served with the local foie gras were double-fired French fries medium cut, braised beef, green onion, and fresh peas, all lightly covered in a brown gravy.

Bistro Le Sam's version of Poutine

Bistro Le Sam’s version of Poutine with braised short ribs, foie gras, pickled onions, and sliced green onions

A few days of Poutine and we were feeling like Megatoad Stonie. Each dish was unique, but inspired by the basic ingredients of fries, fresh cheese curds, and gravy. The question became, how far could you go? How many other ingredients could you layer in to create a chef’s spin on a classic? This year’s Poutine that reigned supreme at the chef’s challenge held in Montreal may have answered that question.

The competitors offered up many variations featuring their signature flavors and ingredients. There was Poutine Taco, Poutine Parfait, Latke Poutine, Donut Dough Poutine, Miso Poutine, Mutant Hot Dog Poutine, BBQ Style Poutine, Russian-inspired Poutine with a Romanoff sauce, Cognitive Poutine (I have no idea what that is), Poutine with Duck and Waffles, and Poutine Animal Style. The winner was Brasserie La Souche of Québec City with a simple but elegant Poutine based on hand cut fries, fresh cheese curds, gravy made with their own beer and house-made beef jerky with fried cheese curd balls on top, and their house-made “Beer-B-Q” sauce.

Choose your version of Poutine

Choose your version of Poutine

After we departed Québec City we traveled to Montreal. We had our sights set on continuing the Poutine challenge, but decided Montreal needed to show us something else…maybe a little lighter and fresher, after all, it was summer.

So what did we learn during our Poutine challenge in Québec City? First and foremost, very fresh cheese curds that squeak when you bite them are essential. Other cheeses can add flavor, but it’s the fresh cheese curds that say this is more than just a hearty stew with fries. The fries were best when crisp and not too large. Too much potato would hide the other flavors and create a soft texture that was not as appealing. Also, no crinkle cut fries. Lastly, there’s the gravy. While simple light gravy is nice, go for the flavor and amp it up with seasonings and herbs. Oh, and those potatoes, be sure not to over season the potatoes or they compete too much with the gravy and all the special additions like braised beef, duck, foie gras, or cured meats.

And don't forget the cold beer - it's the perfect pairing for Poutine!

And don’t forget the cold beer – it’s the perfect pairing for Poutine!

When we returned to Atlanta, Georgia, our home base, we found Poutine has made its way below the Mason Dixon Line. Several local restaurants now serve Poutine, both simple and chef inspired.

So what happens when a Jewish Deli puts Poutine on the menu? At the General Muir in Atlanta, Chef Todd Ginsberg hand cuts his French fries, imports fresh cheddar cheese curds from Wisconsin, smothers it with chicken gravy and applies his own house smoked coriander and black pepper pastrami to the dish. Want to make it a brunch offering? Top it with an egg.

Poutine at General Muir (Photo courtesy of Thomas Lee)

Poutine at General Muir (Photo courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee)

So, if you’re anxious to try this Québec specialty, check with some local restaurants that serve bistro style food or make your own. French fries, fresh cheese curds, and warm chicken or beef gravy (or a combination) poured over the dish. That’s the basics. What will you add to make it your own?

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