Poutine. Pou. Freaking. TINE.
Yeeeess. Fries. Cheese. Gravy Canadian deliciousnesss. 1997, in a tiny town in New Brunswick, is when I was first introduced to it’s amazingness. Yea. I remember it. One of my friends in middle school, Stephanie, would go to New Brunswick every summer for a couple of weeks to visit her grandmother and a couple of summers I tagged along. The summer before 7th grade (I think that’s how old we were) was the trip that I first had the gravy, cheesy, goodness.
We were just a couple of pre-teens in Canada, living in a pop-up trailer in Stephanie’s grandmother’s backyard, where the highlights of our day were trips to the Quickie-Mart to get popsicles and magazines where we’d cut out pictures of James Van der Beek and that other guy, the Mighty Ducks one, and post them on the walls of our trailer. Oh, and rock out to N’Sync and Britney Spears. And wear these horrendous yet super cool at the time, wedged shoes.
Oh. Then we’d have photo shoots where we’d just take ridiculously staged photos of each other. It was obviously pre selfie era.
Anyway, Stephanie has her own awesome food blog and while scrolling through it one day, I came across her poutine post and squealed aloud. Cheese curds were totally on my list of cheeses to make next but I had no idea what I would use them for, but duuuh POUTINNNEEE.
So I knew I was going to make it. I was actually impatiently awaiting the perfect time to make it. Do I make it for a party? Do I make it for just Dan and I? Do I throw a party just for poutine?! It wasn’t on my list to make yesterday. At all. I was already making tomato paste and Nigel had a park play date with his bestie Bentley in the afternoon and I was on my fourth load of laundry (I know, a super exciting Saturday). But my husband… my poor husband… was still working. Still because he’d worked about 14 hours the day before, and was already working on hour number 8 for the day. He hadn’t been on his bike all week. He hadn’t been to the climbing gym all week. He hadn’t gone for a swim all week. The only free time he’s had, he’s made dinner with me, then gone back to his office to keep working. I’m super proud of him and that he has such an incredible work ethic and I know all of this hard work will eventually mean we’ll buy the house with a porch swing and a gourmet kitchen and a backyard big enough for chickens and a green house so I can start nesting and having babies. But until then, he’s tired. And today, more than Nigel needed to go to the park, my husband needed some poutine.
So the first step was making the cheese curds. Milk, calcium chloride, vegetable rennet, and thermophilic culture. All bought at the Homebrew Exchange (seriously this place is sooooo awesome).
Oh and the gravy. So I didn’t have any meat drippings and the only stock we had in our freezer was chicken stock. We rarely make a beef stock since we eat mostly chicken. Oh well.
I started the cheese curds first. This is about as far as I got before I messed up. From here on out it went downhill. For cheese curds the recipe called for heating the milk to 90 degrees and adding the calcium chloride and the thermophilic culture and letting it ‘ripen’ for 30 mins, but keeping it right at 90 degrees. Easy. So I took the pot off of the front burner, put a lid on it, and moved it to the back burner that was off. That way it would maintain it’s heat for the next 30 minutes but not heat up any more.
Did I mention I was making tomato paste at the same time? You know what that meant? I had a few trays of paste in the oven reducing down into paste form. You know what my oven does when it’s on? It releases heat out of the back left burner. That I had moved the pot to in order to take it off the heat. Genius move.
By this point I was invested. There were 2 gallons of milk already involved and I wanted poutine, dammit. So even though my milk had heated to over 100 degrees, I said fuck it and decided that maybe I could defy chemistry and still get cheese curds. So I added the rennet, let it do it’s thing, then cut the curds into little squares and stirred. This is when I knew I wasn’t going to win.
Here’s what it shouldn’t look like after you stir the curds. Crap. Well, there was no turning back now . The recipe said it needed to continue cooking for up to 60 minutes so I, again, thought that maybe, just maybe it was salvageable.
So I started the gravy. A stick of butter and an onion sauteed up…
…then a few Tablespoons of flour whisked in to thicken it.
And then a couple of cups of chicken stock and a couple of Tablespoons of milk.
Some salt and pepper and then set on low-medium to let it continue to cook and thicken.
While I was still hoping for a chemistry miracle with the cheese and while the gravy thickened, I cut up some spuds into a nice thick cut, poutine appropriate fry. We usually like our fries to be nice and thin and crispy, but for poutine they need to be a little heartier and thicker for maximum gravy/cheese support.
So the gravy was thickening and the fries were baking. I decided to see what I could salvage from my 2 gallons of over cooked milk.
There wasn’t much. Clearly. The curds had lost all shape and I ripped a massive hole in my cheese cloth and then spilled whey all over the floor and then knocked over another bowl of chicken stock and by this point I was saying some pretty not nice things to the curds that made Nigel flee the scene. So. The fact that I got this much, is kind of a miracle. Had I been less pissed / covered in whey and chicken stock and had a better cheese cloth, I’m sure I could have had much more. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
But this would be plenty for a plate of poutine. At this point I stopped doing anything the recipe called for. So the 60-180 minutes of pressing that you’re supposed to d to get that ‘cheese curd texture’, I was not in the mood for. Plus, I wanted the curds to be kind of melty so I kept it nice and soft.
Then I turned the oven up to broil and stuck the plate underneath it for a few minutes in an attempt to melt the cheese a little bit. It didn’t work like I wanted it to, but it still heated up the cheese.
Then I topped it with the gravy. So again, it wasn’t a traditional beef gravy and I’d used an onion in it to give it more flavor. Actually, I used onion because it was hard to find a gravy recipe that didn’t call for meat drippings or a gravy packet and I used the first one I found, which called for onions and I didn’t even think about how poutine doesn’t usually have an onion gravy… oops.
Pou-freaking-tine. It didn’t have the traditional color, but whoa, was it good. The gravy was nice and thick and flavorful (thanks to the fact that we make pretty rich chicken stock), and the cheese, although not exactly what I was going for, had mild flavor, perfect for the gravy. Plus, it was nice and soft and the fries were the perfect thickness to be ideal gravy/cheese vessels.
My husband ended up working from 8 am until 1 am that day. Suck. But, he had poutine from scratch for dinner! Win.