Oddly enough, despite being a lifelong Montrealer and a TV chef championing Canadian cuisine, Ricardo didn’t have his first poutine until he was 25.
“It was at this fry shack on the side of the road while we were filming something for the Food Network outside Montreal,” the 49-year-old recalls while whipping up a beef and barbecue sauced version of the Quebecois dish in the Star’s test kitchen. “For years I refused to do a poutine recipe because I felt it was something that you ordered at a restaurant rather than making it at home. Growing up, it never existed in my family.”
He also admits that he turned his nose up at the dish, preferring to cook more homey plates such as a tourtière or pot pie. But as he ate more poutine (after his wife bluntly told him to stop being a snob), he began to appreciate the dish that has become a stereotypical symbol of Canadian dining. It’s not the pinnacle of fine dining nor is it something that’s encouraged to be eaten on a daily, let alone, weekly basis, but he has to give the dish credit for its worldwide notoriety.
“We should be proud of creating something in the fast food world that’s not American and everyone can relate to,” he says. “How many times can you make something that’s like the new Big Mac and has been adopted worldwide?”
Since then, Ricardo and his kitchen team have come up with a handful of poutine variations in addition to the plain gravy and curds recipe. There’s one with a fish-based gravy and topped with shrimp, adapted from seafood restaurant Brise Bise in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. A dessert version with a caramel sauce replacing the gravy, churros in place of fries and marshmallows rather than curds. Finally, a poutine where crispy oven-baked potato wedges and curds are smothered in a thickened barbecue sauce and ground beef mixture.
“You can’t choose what people love to eat, and there’s a simple reason why poutines are so popular: salt, sugar and fat. It gives you the same satisfaction as a slice of pizza or burger,” he says. “I love it when there’s a lot of sauce and cheese. You can’t be cheap on either, it’s not supposed to be dry and the curds have to be squeaky.”
To get that desired “squeak” from the curds, Ricardo suggests leaving the cheese to sit on the counter to warm up a bit rather than tossing them on the fries straight from the fridge. It’s this almost-room-temperature state that differentiates a poutine that’s just fine, and a poutine that connoisseurs want to eat beyond a drunken 2 a.m. bender.
“The poutine is just one part of who we are in Quebec and Canada, and we shouldn’t be snobs about food,” he says. “If people like eating it, then my job is to make it as good as I can.”
Beef Barbecue Sauce Poutine
For The Fries
2.2 lbs (1 kg) skin-on russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch (1.5-cm) thick wedges
2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss potatoes in oil on sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes in a single layer, skin-side down. Bake for 45 minutes or until wedges are golden brown with a crispy crust and a soft centre.
Turn oven down to 200 F (100 C) and keep warm until ready to add to sauce.
For The Beef Barbecue Sauce
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 lb (450 g) lean ground beef
2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) paprika
2 cups (500 mL) beef broth
1/4 cup (60 mL) ketchup
1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
10 oz (280 g) cheese curds or grated cheddar
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown onion, garlic and beef in butter, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in flour and paprika. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes or until sauce has reached desired thickness. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Transfer baked wedges to a large serving plate. Top with cheese and pour sauce on top. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
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