One of the absolute best things in the world to eat is poutine.
It has everything: savory deep flavors, hearty carbs, mountains of cheese, and gravy. It’s an absolute beast of a dish, in the best way. I have eaten so many poutines in my life and I don’t regret any of them.
What is poutine
Poutine is a classic Quebequois Canadian dish consisting of fries, fresh cheese curds, and gravy. It’s fairly newish, created in the 50s – it doesn’t really have a clear inventor, but there are tons of places who claim they invented it.
It’s insanely popular in Canada and is pretty much known around the world as a classic Canadian snack food. It’s definitely a favorite amongst Canadians: there are poutineries that sell only poutine, high-end poutines at fancy restaurants, snack shack poutines, and even poutine at McDonald’s and Costco.
- Fries: almost always medium thick with creamy, soft interiors, double fried for crunch.
- Cheese curds: fresh cheese curds are a must. Fresh cheese curds are squeaky, chewy, and melt just the tiniest bit on the outside when drenched in gravy. They’re mild and a little salty and they taste amazing.
- Gravy: also known as poutine sauce. This is where everyone gets a little inventive. Classic poutine sauce is a brown gravy that is butter and flour roux based. People use a mix of beef or chicken stock and spices. Vegetarian gravy is super common as well and and a lot of the poutinerie in Quebec exclusively serve vegetarian gravy. Poutine sauce is so popular that they even sell poutine sauce packets in the grocery store.
- Toppings: classic poutine is always just fries, cheese curds, and gravy, but there are loads of toppings you can add on top like bacon, scallions, sausages, pulled pork, mushrooms, peppers, essentially anything you can ever think of.
You probably haven’t had poutine
If you haven’t visited Canada, you’ve probably never had real poutine. For me, real poutine MUST have fresh and squeaky cheese curds. They serve poutine in the US, but trust me when I say it’s not the same. The worst contenders use shredded cheese that melts into the gravy making it cheesy gravy and fries. Which is delicious in its own right, but a real poutine needs to have 3 distinct ingredients/textures.
What makes a good poutine
In my humble opinion as a lifelong eater of poutine, I love poutine that has golden brown, crisp and crunchy fries with fluffy insides, thick but not too thick umami filled gravy, and loads of fresh cheese curds that have melty edges and squeaky middles. The ultimate expression of poutine that I’ve had was at the Chez Ashton in the food court in the mall where Celine Dion was discovered.
A note about poutine in Montreal. I think it’s something you need to grow up with, but for some reason, the poutine in Montreal features soggy fries. I’m not a fan. I just don’t LOVE the style of fries that people in Montreal prefer. I find them oily and limp. I need my fries to hold up gravy and heat. I want them to be crispy and crunchy and fluffy, not soggy and creamy.
Fresh cheese curds
Cheese curds, aka squeaky cheese, are little randomly shaped nuggets of fresh young cheddar cheese. They are mild like mozzarella and are squeaky between your teeth when you chew them. They keep their shape well and and melt slightly when warmed. Cheese curds are essentially baby cheese that aren’t mature and pressed. The have extra air in them which is what makes the squeak.
Why fresh cheese curds?
Fresh cheese curds are perfect for poutine because you don’t want the curds to melt into the gravy, you want little nuggets of cheese that hold up to the heat. The perfect poutine cheese curd has a blanket of piping hot gravy and is slightly melty and gooey on the outside with a firm yet soft squeaky distinct bite on the inside. The contrast in temperature and texture is what makes fresh cheese curds in poutine amazing.
Where to buy fresh cheese curds
Fresh cheese curds are always sold at room temp and they can be hard to find depending on if there’s cheese being made near you or not. Once you refrigerate fresh cheese curds, they lose their squeak and texture. Even in the West Coast of Canada, it can be difficult to find fresh, unrefrigerated cheese curds. In the East Coast, you’ll find bags of fresh cheese curds, unrefrigerated, near the bakery/deli. In Quebec they’ll also be near the checkouts, like candy.
In America (and western Canada) you can find cheese curds in the cheese section. Outside of Wisconsin, they probably won’t be same day fresh, so they won’t be squeaky, but leaving them on the counter top for 20 minutes at room temp will at least give them a bit of a head start on the melting. You can even buy cheese curds online these days, believe it or not.
What is poutine sauce?
Poutine sauce is another way Canadians say gravy. I kid, I kid – but really poutine sauce is essentially a brown gravy that’s make from butter, flour, stock, and spices.
Like gravy, it’s rich and hearty, warm and full of flavor. Not all poutine sauces are meat based, in fact a lot of them are vegetarian, but they have a very hearty, rich flavor to them that tastes like the brown gravy you get when you eat pot roast or a roast dinner. The nice thing about it is that unlike brown gravy, you don’t need drippings.
You can buy little packets of instant poutine sauce at the grocery store in Quebec and they also sell jarred and canned versions too.
How to make poutine sauce
If you’ve made gravy before, you can make poutine sauce! This particular poutine sauce is special because it uses both a roux and a cornstarch slurry to thicken. You get the best of both worlds: the richness of a roux based gravy and the silliness of a cornstarch thickened gravy. This gravy is just thick enough to cling to and coat the fries and curds without being goopy.
- Melt some butter over low heat and sprinkle on some flour. Cook the butter and flour into a roux, stirring and letting it bubble away for 2-3 minutes.
- Slowly stream in beef stock (or vegetable if you prefer) while whisking over medium low heat.
- Whisk in ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and garlic powder.
- Mix cornstarch with a bit of water to create a slurry and add it to the gravy. Bring the heat up to medium high and simmer until bubbly and thick.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Best fries for poutine
When making poutine at home, Mike and I almost always turn to frozen fries and our air fryer. Frozen fries exist for a reason. They’re consistent and come out crispier than fresh cut french fried potatoes. The air fryer magically makes frozen fries hot and crisp and just as good (if not better) than fries fried in oil. We like to choose a sturdy straight cut fry and fry it for 10-15 minutes with a couple of shakes in between.
What are the best potatoes for poutine?
If you’re going to go the route and make your own fries, I recommend Russets because of their dense high starch content. You want them to be able to soak up as much gravy as possible.
- 1 lb frozen french fries ~ 1 bag
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups beef stock no sodium preferred
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp cornstarch made into a slurry with 1 tbsp water
- 1.5 cups fresh cheese curds
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 288
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 17.6g110%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.