This summer I went on a bike tour of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec with my boyfriend Ben, and we ate plenty of the regional specialties. When thinking of Quebec, the food that immediately comes to mind is poutine, so of course we had to eat some while there. If you’ve ever been to Quebec, chances are you’ve heard of poutine. If you haven’t, it’s a dish of french fries, cheese curd, and gravy. From what I can tell, people either love it or hate it, but in Quebec it seemed like most people love it. I had imagined that it had some kind of interesting history, but after doing only a quick google search it seems that it was invented only about 50 years ago. While it certainly isn’t slow, it’s definitely pretty appetizing after riding a bike all day.
While we only had the standard version, there are supposedly variations depending on what town you’re in and what their local specialties are. In Matane, QC, we had been told that the specialty was poutine with béchamel sauce (instead of gravy), cheese curd and mini shrimp. We were either duped or just didn’t stop at the right restaurant, because we didn’t get to try it, but nonetheless were intrigued by this variation.
Our trip ended in New Brunswick, which has its own take on the dish. When someone tried to explain to us what poutine râpée was, we imagined that it would be hash browns (râpée means shredded or grated) instead of french fries with the usual toppings. But we were in for a surprise. The woman that we ordered it from had made them herself that morning, and wanted to make very sure before she placed out order that poutine râpée was what we actually wanted. When she brought them out a few minutes later, we must have looked shocked because she seemed concerned, and maybe a little hurt. Instead of french fries or even hash browns, it looked like it was just a ball of potato. She told us that people usually either put salt and pepper or sugar on them- we went with the salt and pepper and dug in. The best comparison I can make to try to explain what it was like is that it was sort of like a giant dumpling. It had a think potato “skin” and the center was some sort of mystery meat with a little bit of gravy.
While I can’t say it was delicious, it’s a classic dish of the Acadian people that was certainly worth trying. It also dates back a lot longer than poutine quebecoise- probably to the late 1700-early 1800s.
Since it’s been almost three months since we got back from our trip, Ben and I had a hankering for a little more poutine. Ben was recently in upstate New York, and he picked up some local cheese curd, and I grabbed some potatoes from the farmer’s market in Government Center. We made rosemary oven fries instead of actually frying them: the recipe we looked at said to soak the potatoes in cold water for about 15 minutes before cooking them to make them crispier, but the soaking didn’t end up really helping. We also made a mushroom gravy by just sautéing onion, garlic, and white mushrooms before adding a tiny bit of soy sauce along with the broth and corn starch and letting it simmer down. Putting it all together couldn’t be easier: just put the french fries on a place, cover them with the cheese curd, and pour as much gravy on top as you’d like.
We thought it might have even been better than the poutine we got in Quebec!