Will the REAL Poutine please stand up?
These days poutine often enters the conversation when we’re talking Canadian cuisine. But are these dozens of variations found on sites like Wikipedia and in restaurants from coast to coast the real deal? You decide; we have.
It was sometime during the 1950s in Quebec that the name poutine fell off the rails and began to be applied to he dish that is currently being popularized across North America – French fries, gravy, cheese curds and sometimes the addition of a variety of other ingredients from lobster to foie gras. Today’s poutine bears virtually no resemblance to the original – with perhaps the exception of the potatoes
Poutine is an Acadian dish. In their book, A Taste of Acadie, authors Marielle Cormier-Boudreau and Melvin Gallant, list eighteen. Most have some a potato component, while others are dumplings, sometimes studded with wild fruit and often served with molasses. Some are rich pastries filled with often-wild fruit and bathed in sweet syrup.
The story of the Acadian people is inextricably woven into the history of the Maritime Provinces. Thrown off their homesteads by the victorious Brits in 1755 when they refused to swear allegiance to the Crown, offering instead to be neutral, their tale is one of great courage for, by the early 1800’s, some had been deported six times. It’s no wonder that their culinary traditions were handed down from family to family and rarely written. They were resilient, resourceful and passionate; their food ways were based on the land and on the ocean. They were the farmers who reclaimed the land from the sea by a series of dykes, some of which are visible. They grew wheat and potatoes and root vegetables, raised pigs for salt pork, fished for cod and herring (drying at right on Grand Manan), salted their herbs for winter and harvested a new vegetable, corn, which they called ble d’inde even making some if it into hominy corn, a dish they’d likely learned in exile.
When we saw New Brunswick chef Jesse Vergen’s Facebook page posting of a picture of the Poutine Râpée he is serving at the Saint John Ale House, it was a moment of celebration. Here was a young chef with strong Acadian roots who is trying to correct, or at the very least preserve, history. Vergen is also, in true Acadian tradition, an avid hunter/fisher and the chef/owner of the Smoking Pig BBQ just down the road from Saint John.
He wrote: “My grandmother, Leena Arsenault, is a very proud Acadian from the Rogersville area of NB, and a big influence on my love of food. She can trace her roots back to Normandy, France. Poutine Râpée is traditional of NB, PEI and also the Acadians on the south shore of NS. It is made by grating raw potato, and combining with cooked potato puree and stuffing either salt pork or ground seasoned pork into the centre then simmering these “dumplings” in either a rich stock or in some cases just water. Many Acadian families would have their variations, and even particular traditions on eating them, some serving with sweet gravy, others just boiled with butter and molasses. One of the things I noticed was there was a bit of a divide within the culture… some loving them and others not so much as they can have a bit of a glutinous texture… and with some recipes not being well seasoned.”
“I began playing with the concept and tried the figure out a way to preserve the heritage of the dish but modernize it for our markets and palettes while still honouring its history. The base of the dish is traditional in that we hand grate the potato on micro planes then using cheese cloth to remove excess liquid. Instead of just using ground pork (or salt pork) as a filling we use our own house-cured pancetta, we find it adds depth to the potato. Us for the traditional glutinous texture we found that frying the Râpée gave it a wicked colour and developed a nice crispy contrast . The Briggs Maple syrup that we pour over it is a nod to the sweet brown sugar gravies and the molasses that covered the ones of our grandmothers.”
He continues, “It is very simple fuel. These traditions of keeping it the same and not adapting the dish has been a double edged sword – one hand preserving its technique while on the other losing people’s love for it by not attempting to make it better.”
The good news, from my perspective, is that while he does top some blazing hot fries with pulled pork, good gravy and cheese curds, he recognizes that honouring ones roots, be it at the dinner table or in the kitchen of a happening ale house in a sea port city, is one of the most important culinary gifts that he can give to Canada.
And from my book, Flavours of Canada: A Celebration of the Finest Regional Foods come this poutine recipe.
Poutines à Trou
Anita Landry and I met years ago while she was promoting New Brunswick’s great seafood. As an Acadian she and her family enjoy many special traditions. Poutines à Trou is one such special dish.
She wrote, “This can be made year round. However, in our family, mother would make them especially at Christmas time with a kind of apple we grew and that seemed to be only ready at that time of year. This was the treat on Christmas morning and to lightly heat them in the oven of our wood stove made them taste even better. The saltiness of the pork with every bite is scrumptious….Some people enjoy cranberries mixed with the apples, adding four or five berries to the filling of each poutine.”
- 5 cups (1.25 L) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp (10 mL) cream of tartar
- 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
- ½ lb (250 g ) cold lard
- 1 ¾ cups (425 mL) milk
- 5 large apples (Gravenstein or Northern Spy are great), peeled, cored and diced
- 1 cup (250 mL) raisins
- ¼ cup (60 mL) finely diced salt pork
- 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (250 mL) warm water
For dough, in large bowl, combine flour, cream of tarter, baking soda and salt. Using pastry blender, or your fingers, cut or rub in shortening until mixture is the texture of coarse crumbs. With wooden spoon, then eventually using your hands, work in milk, about ½ cup (125 mL) at a time to form a stiff dough. Divide into two sections, wrap with plastic wrap and let rest while you prepare the fillings.
For filling, in bowl, stir together apples and raisins or cranberries. In skillet over medium heat, cook salt pork just until crisp; pour off fat.
Roll out one section of dough to ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangle. Cut into 4 rough rectangles. Place about 2/3 cup (150 mL) apple mixture in centre of one section top with a few pieces pork. Wet edges of dough with a little milk. At one short end, overlap corners to form a cone. Repeat at other short end, to bring the poutine into a rough round with an opening in the top. Place in buttered 9 inch by 13 inch (3 L) casserole dish or other large casserole. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake in preheated 400 F (200 C) oven 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in small saucepan make syrup. Bring water and sugar to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Pour about 1/3 syrup into centers of poutines. Reduce heat to 350 F (180 C); bake a further 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and apples are tender. Pour remaining syrup into poutines.
Makes 8 servings.