I was trying to catch my breath as I pressed on, one bike stroke after the other, seemingly going slower than the nonchalant pedestrians walking across the street, with beads of sweat seeping from my helmet. My mind was split between focusing on not getting hit by a car, not passing out, and “can I ignore this ‘under construction’ sign?”
You don’t realize you’re out of shape until you try to hop on a bike and ride up hill on Avenue du Mont-Royal through rush hour on a hot day.
Poutine is pretty much the national dish of Canada – but that doesn’t mean you can get it anywhere. For me, poutine is the food of Quebec. Yes, I can get it in Toronto at fast food places or burrito joints. But there’s something about eating it in Montreal, home of eatasmuchcheeseasyouwantnoonewilljudgeyou, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. They have poutine with chorizo, bacon, pulled pork, smoked meat, foie gras, caviar… basically anything edible. There’s a reason why the word poutine comes from Quebec slang for ‘huge freaking mess’ (or something like that).
My destination on that hot day in Montreal was none other than Mange-Moi, a poutine place with 23 kinds and during Burger Week when I visited – a burger with, you guessed it, poutine. They also serve ‘L’originale de 1957’, a traditional poutine with gravy made in-house, attempting to play into the story that poutine was invented when a small restaurant in 1957 started serving fries, cheese curds, and sauce. This poutine classique, without any wild additions, remains my favourite.
Back home after a beautiful month in Montreal, it wasn’t long before I wanted to be able to make it in my own kitchen, without a deep fryer. The recipe below is my solution to that. It’s delicious, unbelievably easy, and helps soothe the food cravings that only Montreal can fill.
Serves 2-3. You can scale this recipe up for large groups of people – it’s easily the best midnight snack. Prep time 15 minutes, cook time 45 minutes.
4 medium-sized potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder (optional)
1 package of cheese curds (from Quebec, ideally)
Gravy (adapted from Ricardo):
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, pressed
10oz beef broth
5oz chicken broth
Dash of pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Roughly peel four medium sized potatoes (or two large ones). It’s okay if there’s some skin left on them. Cut them lengthwise into sticks about an inch wide. The size of your fries is up to you; just make sure they’re uniform.
In a large bowl, toss the fries with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Other optional spices are paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Lay them flat on a baking sheet, making sure they’re not too crowded and they’re not overlapping.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, flipping them over with a spatula after 20. When the ends start getting crispy and they’re all golden brown, they’re ready.
To make the gravy, combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Then melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and swish it around with a spoon, allowing it to become golden brown – a few minutes.
Add the garlic and simmer for 30 seconds. Add beef and chicken stock and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Then lower the heat, add the cornstarch, and simmer it until it thickens, about 5 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon when it’s ready.
Serve it by plating your fries with layers of cheese curds, and pour the gravy on top.