Archive for the ‘Montreal’Category

Montreal Poutinefest moves to August on 375th

Montreal Poutinefest in Boston Globe
This summer is a big birthday season in Canada. The country is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and the city of Montreal is marking the 375th anniversary of its founding. As you can imagine, the period between the Quebec National Day (June 24) and Canada Day (July 1) is more hectic than usual in Montreal.

So the Monteal Poutinefest, on which we reported last June, is making way for other celebrations on the Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port. But it’s expected to be back—bigger and better than ever—in August. So start making plans now. The Poutinefest is scheduled for August 15-20. Admission will again be free, but you might want to reserve a room in Montreal now. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

As you can see from the clip above, we wrote about it in the April 30 edition of the Boston Globe’s travel section. Here’s a link to read online: https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2017/04/27/montreal-poutinefest-celebrates-fries-with-that/DWfAFxsgaCaLEM6txLs3HJ/story.html

02

05 2017

Healthy poutine is not an oxymoron

Chef Gérôme Paquette and an appreciative diner at Montreal Poutinefest
“Eating vegetarian is a culture that grows every day,” acknowledges Gérôme Paquette, chef at L’Gros Luxe (www.lgrosluxe.com), a small chain of restaurants committed to a healthy lifestyle. “People are more cautious about what they are eating.”

But that doesn’t mean that diners want to give up flavor—or comfort food favorites such poutine. And Paquette (above left) is happy to oblige. “Creating a vegetarian version of poutine is not that complicated,” he says. He points out that it’s all about balancing flavors and textures of the sauce and topping ingredients.

In place of the typically rich meat gravy, Paquette creates a vegetable stock that he seasons as if it were a meat stock. For his Poutine Thai, he ladles the thickened veggie stock over the frites and adds the requisite cheese curds. He then and tops the basket with a substantive salad of bean sprouts, green onions, and cilantro. He drizzles a little hoisin sauce over it all, sprinkles on a few dashes of sriracha, and adds wedges of lime for the diners to squeeze over the dish to taste.

Thai vegetarian poutine at Montreal Poutinefest The result is a surprisingly elegant presentation. The gravy does not obscure the brightly colored vegetables and crisp frites. The sriracha adds a bit of heat and the bean sprouts and peanuts add a good crunch to contrast with the soft frites. It’s a dish that looks good, tastes good and is fun to eat. In truth, a serving of poutine can seem a little monotonous by the end. But the variations in texture and pops of flavor keep this version interesting down to the last bite. It is, in fact, the best seller at the L’Gros Luxe outpost. The woman above was thrilled to find a vegetarian option at the Poutinefest.

Paquette is humble about the success of the dish. “It’s good to create something with elements that you don’t think will go together – but they do,” he says.

21

08 2016

Caribbean flavors explode in jerk chicken poutine

Chef Jae Anthony cooks jerk chicken at Montreal Poutinefest
Montreal’s multiculturalism is one key to the city’s enduring appeal and its ability to constantly reinvent itself. Chef Jae Anthony is a case in point. His parents came from Barbados and Trinidad, and while Jae has roots in both Caribbean nations, he’s a Montrealer through and through. He operates the Seasoned Dreams restaurant in the Côte Saint-Paul neighborhood, just over the Lachine Canal bridge near the Ambroise-McAuslan brewery. You can get his cooking all year long at 5205 rue Angers, Montreal (514-769-2222; seasoneddreams.com). Seasoned Dreams specializes in Caribbean fusion cooking, He also A portable version of the restaurant travels around to festivals.

jerk chicken and pork poutine from Seasoned Dreams at Montreal Poutinefest Finding Seasoned Dreams was a breeze at the Montreal Poutinefest. You could literally follow your nose. Chef Jae and his partner Julien Chemtof were cooking outdoors over very smoky grills. One grill had whole jerk-seasoned pork butts slowly spinning on a rotisserie over charcoal. The other was a gas grill that produced voluminous clouds of smoke as Chef Jae cooked chicken marinated in jerk seasoning. Chef Jae proudly calls himself “the originator of Famous Montreal Style Jerk Chicken Poutine.” Seasoned Dreams offered a choice of jerk chicken poutine, jerk pork poutine, or a combination plate of both. (At the restaurant they also make a Haitian-style braised oxtail poutine, They also serve a classic poutine for Canadian purists.)

Authenticity shows


Because the cooking process was so smoky, Seasoned Dreams was set up at the downwind end of the food trucks and stands. That allowed the smoke to billow away toward the river. (Clocktower Quai sits on a particularly scenic part of the Montreal waterfront.) But diners made a point of seeking out the jerk poutine. As we waited in line for ours, we asked a woman standing nearby how she liked her jerk chicken.

“Caribbeans are the toughest critics,” she said, identifying herself as coming from Antigua. “If they like it, you know it’s good.” She didn’t just like it, she said. “I love it.”

17

08 2016

Poutine plays nicely with lobster and bacon

Jesse Teasdale poses with lobster bacon poutine at Montreal Poutinefest.
Poutine’s simplicity seems to spur cooks to increasingly baroque inventions. Think of a preschooler fantasizing about crossing a T. Rex with a firetruck, or wondering what superpowers the offspring of Superman and Wonder Woman might possess. Fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy have a salty, starchy goodness all their own. So what happens when you cross poutine with, say, a cheeseburger? Or lobster? Or lobster and bacon?

Lady with bacon cheeseburger poutine at Montreal Poutinefest It’s the kind of thinking that led to a number of the ice cream mashup flavors at Ben & Jerry, but it suits the spirit of a poutine food truck festival. Especially in Montreal. What if…?

One of the more successful forays into hybridizing fast foods turns out to be the bacon cheeseburger poutine. Think about it. It skips the question that thousands of college grads ask at their first jobs—“Would you like fries with that?”—and goes straight to the affirmative. Plus, the bacon cheeseburger gets some salty brown gravy for good measure. You’d think a bacon cheeseburger poutine would be the kind of dish that mostly guys in baggy shorts and askew baseball caps would order, but the Montreal lady above insists that the basket is actually really tasty. And she clearly has good taste.

Lobster bacon poutine is twice as good


Jesse Teasdale with lobster bacon poutine at Montreal Poutinefest One of the most popular poutine versions at the festival this year was the Lobster Bacon Poutine served by the Ottawa-based Golden Fries/The Grilled Cheeserie truck. Each batch of fries was covered in the meat of a small lobster in a cream sauce infused with double-smoked bacon. The truck belongs to Jane Racicof, but her husband Jesse Teasdale (right) was fronting the operation in Montreal.

“In the off-season, I was talking to a chef and we were just fooling around,” Teasdale explains. “But we came up with the idea of a lobster-bacon poutine.” They came up with an original recipe based on lobster bouillon seasoned with garlic, pepper, “and lots of love.” The cooked bacon is added directly to the liquid to steep. The cooks add cream to the sauce and thicken it with a roux to make a lobster white stock. It’s a big improvement over generic brown gravy. It’s a mashup of poutine with lobster chowder.

But lest the lobster poutine get too big for its britches, it still contains plenty of fresh cheese curds to make diners smile when the curds squeak on their teeth.

“Last year we sold 1,000 a day,” says Teasdale. “This year looks even better.”

15

08 2016

Montreal smoked meat shines at Poutinefest

Maison Smokies Charcuterie-Deli serves smoked meat at Poutinefest
Maybe it was preordained. The quintessential delicatessen specialty of Montreal–smoked meat–had to meet up with poutine at some point. Perhaps the only thing that kept it from happening sooner is the kosher prohibition against serving meat and dairy (i.e., cheese curds) in the same dish.

The exact origins of Montreal smoked meat are murky, but it was clearly introduced by Eastern European Jewish immigrant butchers around the end of the 19th century. In its modern incarnation, smoked meat is made from beef brisket dry-cured with salt and spices, hot smoked, and finally steamed before serving. It resembles New York pastrami, but is usually cured with far less sugar and far more spices—especially cracked pepper, coriander, mustard seed, and garlic. The flavor is so addictive that Montrealers in exile often get packages of it delivered from home.

Costa Sigounis at Poutinefest Costa Sigounis knows his smoked meat. He spent 40 years running restaurants and delis that served smoked meat on rye to generations of Montreal diners. He still owns part of a smoked meat factory. But his main restaurant business these days consists of food trucks, which he says really began to catch on three to four years ago. Two of his trucks stay parked at the Old Port. A third truck, called Maison Smokies Charcuterie-Deli, is always on the move. It rolls around town to feed the hungry crowds at Montreal’s frequent festivals. At Poutinefest, people lined up ten deep for the smoked meat poutine baskets from Maison Smokies.

smoked meat poutine at Poutinefest Sigounis says that he has found that smoked meat ranks among the most popular toppings for poutine. (He also sells versions with meatballs and hot peppers and with lamb sausage.) Although smoked meat might have strayed from the dietary strictures of its Jewish immigrant origins, Sigounis still serves his smoked meat poutine with whole half-sour pickles. That’s the de rigeur accompaniment to a smoked meat sandwich you’d order at any Mile End deli. The pickle’s slight pucker cuts through the unctuousness of the meat, and the cucumber crunch provides a nice textural contrast.

10

08 2016

Argentine poutine spices up Montreal Poutinefest

Sandro's at Poutinefest
Sandro Guerrero hails from Córdoba, Argentina. “It’s a good country with a lot of meat,” he says with almost ironic understatement. The average Argentine eats nearly 100 pounds of beef annually. That equals the annual consumption of an American and a Canadian combined.

When he moved his family to Montreal three years ago, Guerrero had never heard of poutine. He admits to an initial skepticism about the favorite dish of Montrealers.

Sandro Guerrero at Poutinefest “I thought it was impossible to eat potatoes with the sauce,” he says of the often nondescript salty brown gravy. “But when I tried it, I had to admit that this is a very good product.”

Guerrero’s regular gig is as a chef at Le Smoking BBQ (see previous post). His Argentine skills with meat and fire come in handy, even if the style of the food there is more American South than South American. But at the Poutinefest, he had his own stand to serve “Asado Argentino” poutine. The dish combines Argentine and Quebecois traditions. He marinates pieces of bavette steak in chimichuri, cuts them into large chunks, and grills them on skewers over charcoal. He then serves the meat on French fries with copious quantities of fresh cheese curds and a topping of chimichuri. (He also serves pieces of pork loin treated the same way, but the beef was more popular.)

“I first tried serving it at the Grand Prix,” he says, referring to Montreal’s annual auto race in early June. “It sold really well.”

All the rage in Montreal bistros these days, bavette is a perfect grilling cut. It is the flap of meat on a beef loin adjacent to flank steak. The cut is also known in New England and parts of New York as “sirloin tips.” Properly marinated and grilled, it is tender and deeply beefy.

bavette and chimichuri poutine at Poutinefest Guerrero marinates the meat in a version of chimichuri that emphasizes the vegetables, which makes it more Argentine than North American. The marinade (which doubles as a sauce) features roughly equal parts of vinegar and oil, along with plenty of salt, garlic, onion, and chopped fresh chile pepper. Fully half the volume of the marinade consists of chopped cilantro and Italian parsley. As a marinade, it tenderizes the meat. As a sauce, it wakes up your tastebuds.

“It’s like a salad for meat,” Guerrero says. “I think the cultural fusion is very good.”

We agree. It’s a little like steak-frites in a basket—and what’s better than steak-frites?

07

08 2016

Montreal Poutinefest rocks the waterfront

Le Smoking BBQ truck at Poutinefest
Certain foods seem destined to go together. Bacon and eggs. Peanut butter and jelly. Shrimp and grits. If you are Québecois, the gastronomic holy trinity is French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The dish is called poutine (pronounced poo-TEEN). Roger Hubert says it has become “the meal” in Quebec. That’s why he and his son Greg, proprietor of the Montreal restaurant Le Smoking BBQ, launched the first Poutinefest at Montreal’s Old Port in fall 2015. It was such a success that they pulled out all the stops for an even splashier version at the end of June 2016. Featuring 18 food trucks with a panoply of poutine variations, the festival took place for three days on the Quai de l’Horloge (Clocktower Quay). Admission was free, but each truck set its own price for poutine.

The dish of French fries laced with fresh cheese curds and doused in brown gravy is the ultimate comfort food. Many Québecers swear by its curative properties when consumed after a long night of imbibing alcoholic beverages. (One poutine restaurant in Montreal stays open all night on weekends.)

The elemental poutine formula creates a mild, slightly salty dish with the squish of gravy-soaked fries and the tooth-squeak of fresh cheese curd. Poutine is so ubiquitous in Quebec (and beyond) that you’d think it had been around forever. But poutine was first served in a restaurant in Warwick in 1957. From that small town halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, it migrated to the provincial capital. The Ashton frites food truck in Québec City, which started serving poutine to the masses in 1972, popularized the dish. Since then, Chez Ashton has morphed into a province-wide chain of fast-food shops.

Poutine, the next generation


Greg Hubert at Poutinefest Whatever its rustic roots, we believe that poutine reached its apotheosis in Montreal when chefs with a nouveau bistro bent began adding such toppings as braised lamb shanks, confit duck leg, salmon roe, and even foie gras. A novelty at first, some restaurants now even feature a poutine of the day.

“People make crazy poutine,” says Greg Hubert (left). “But everything done on the poutine is usually good.”

The Poutinefest has returned poutine to its food truck roots. Greg offers four variations of barbecue poutine at Le Smoking BBQ (2186 Ste-Catherine West, Montreal, 514-903-6676, lesmokingbbq.com). His truck kept things simple and served just two at Poutinefest. His base poutine to which barbecued meats are added has a savory house gravy created from roasted meat and bone brown stock. For the barbecued beef short ribs version, he adds a house-made barbecue sauce on top.

Pulled pork poutine at Poutinefest Le Smoking BBQ truck’s biggest seller at the festival, however, was the pulled pork poutine, as shown here. Underneath all that chopped and pulled pork in a sweet-sour barbecue sauce are the requisite fries, brown gravy, and squeaky cheese curds. The poutine base was delicious and mild, and made a great launching pad for the tangy pulled pork.

In truth, we could have stopped there. But in the spirit of investigative gastronomic journalism, we spent three days tasting our way through the truck offerings. Over the next few posts, we’ll cover some of the most original. For updates on the 2017 festival, check the web site.

04

08 2016

Saffron shortbread cookies for festive season

Shortbread and coffee
Peggy Regan of Salon de Té le Gryphon D’Or (www.gryphondor.com) in Montreal is the absolute mistress of shortbread, which you can enjoy at her tea room or order through the mail. When she gave us a shortbread recipe for Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal (see SOME BOOKS), she casually mentioned how the recipe could be adapted to add other flavors. She had in mind flavors like maple and almond.

We happen to love shortbread cookies as an accompaniment to Spanish sparkling wine, or cava. So we wondered how another signature Spanish flavor — saffron — might taste in shortbread. Since we travel often to Spain, we tend to buy saffron when we come across a good deal or when we’re in Consuegra, the premier saffron town. And roughly once a year we purchase a full ounce (that’s 28+ grams) of premium saffron from Afghanistan from Vanilla Saffron (www.saffron.com) in San Francisco. So we almost always have a lot of saffron on hand.

Saffron extractWe experimented a bit to perfect this shortbread. Saffron gives up its color and flavor sparingly to fat, so to get a lovely golden color and intense flavor for the dough, we had to make a saffron extract using grain alcohol. (Overproof rum or vodka works just as well.) The shortbread recipe takes hints from a number of chefs and bakers. Grinding the sugar (we use a coffee/spice grinder) speeds the absorption of sugar into the butter. The use of a blend of cake flour and all-purpose flour is a trick many bakers use for a more tender shortbread. The optional crumbled saffron creates little flecks in the cookies and makes the saffron flavor even more intense.

And if you don’t want to open a bottle of cava, the shortbread is great with hot coffee.

SAFFRON SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Makes 3 dozen cookiesShortbread cooling vertical

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature (230 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, ground in blender or food processor (100 grams)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon homemade saffron extract (see below)
1 cup all-purpose flour (140 grams)
1 cup cake flour (120 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
extra granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Using power mixer and large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat for 5-10 minutes until fluffy and mixture no longer feels gritty between thumb and forefinger. (Scrape down bowl often.) Beat in egg yolk and saffron extract until well mixed.

In a separate bowl combine all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt, and crumbled saffron threads (if using). Whisk thoroughly to blend.

Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing in with wooden spoon or spatula. When flour appears to be fully incorporated, beat with mixer on low for 15 seconds to ensure uniform dispersion in the dough.

Mixture will be very soft. Turn out onto parchment paper and top with a second layer of paper. Press into disk and roll out about 1/4 inch thick. Place rolled-out dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes until firm.

Set oven for 325F (165C). Cut cookies into desired shape. (We use a 1 3/4-inch fluted circle.) Work quickly before dough softens. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle each cookie with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies just barely begin to brown on bottom.

Remove to wire racks to cool.

SAFFRON EXTRACT
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons neutral spirit (150 proof or higher)
Combine in small bottle. Extract can be used immediately but gains potency after a day of steeping. In tightly sealed bottle kept away from light, extract should retain its potency for a month or more.

22

12 2013

Montreal bargain lunches

Of all the guidebook series we work on, the research for the Food Lovers’ series may be the most fun. Our most recent published volume was on Montreal, but we didn’t spend all our time eating foie gras or dining at innovative contemporary restaurants.

We’re always on the lookout for good values, and we found 10 great lunches for about $10 where we could tap into various strains of Montreal culture. We recently published that roundup in the Boston Globe. You’ll find the results as a pair of PDFs on our Sample Articles page.

We are just about finished writing our next volume, Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire, and have a refrigerator full of artisanal cheese, cured pork products, and storage vegetables that we brought back to Cambridge from our research forays. Inspired by the great grilled cheese sandwich we had at Maison Cheddar in Montreal’s Outremont neighborhood (it’s in the Boston Globe article), we took some of that provender to improvise a New England locavore grilled cheese lunch.

The sharp cheddar cheese came from Vermont, a fig-walnut jam spread came from Stonewall Kitchen in Maine, and a few slices of Fox Smoke House bacon hailed from the woods of New Hampshire. We put those ingredients between a couple of slices of Nashoba Brook Bakery’s ”Harvest” bread, a sourdough studded with nuts, fruits, and candied ginger. (Nashoba Brook is in West Concord, Massachusetts.) As a counterpoint, we grated some Vermont carrots, added some golden raisins, and tossed them with a little cider vinegar, salt, a pinch of sugar, and a few drops of milk to make a Montreal-style carrot salad. Not bad. It succeeded in bring a taste of travel back home.

11

12 2011

Three (delicious) flavors of ‘bistro’ in Montreal

Our latest book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal, is finally hitting the bookstores in the U.S. and Canada. The city has always been one of our favorite places for a quick getaway, a winter shopping spree, or a romantic weekend—in large part because the food is so good. We’ve enjoyed watching the Montreal dining scene evolve over the years, and many of our favorite places to eat are bistros—with or without the French ”t” at the end. They tend to be small, casual neighborhood places with hearty food and plentiful drink.

The old-fashioned French bistro persists in Montreal. La Gargote (351 place d’Youville, 514-844-1428, www.restaurantlagargote.com, Metro: Square Victoria) is one of our favorites in this style. The name is French slang for a diner, but this little mom-and-pop restaurant looks, feels, and tastes like a small-town bistro lifted straight from an early 1950s French film. More marvelously bourgeois is Le Paris (1812 rue Sainte-Catherine ouest; 514-937-4898, Metro: Guy-Concordia), which has been serving a homey boeuf bourgignon since it opened in 1956.

Montreal became obsessed with food before most cities in North America, and it has even evolved its own versions of bistro, including bistro-plus. Keeping the casual, almost ad hoc quality of a neighborhood bistro, a bistro-plus gives patrons a little something extra—an unexpected amuse-bouche, some mignardises with the bill, or a surprise shaving of truffles or dollop of foie gras. Le Grain de Sel (2375 rue Sainte-Catherine est, 514-522-5105, www.restolegraindesel.ca, Metro: Papineau) epitomizes the style. We have friends who come to this spot a few blocks outside the Village just for chef-owner Jean-François Bonin’s myriad twists on foie gras. We also love his wine list, where prices are reasonable because he opts for private importing.

Most au courant is the style we call bistro-grunge. Something of an answer to London’s gastropubs and Basque country’s pintxos bars, bistro-grunge places usually have heavily tattooed kitchen and wait staff (and customers). Here’s the kick—-for all the edgy posing, the food is as inventive, locavore and just plain delicious as at a bistro-plus. A bistro-grunge usually has a good beer list and nowhere near enough seats. A perfect example is Le Chien Fumant (4710 rue de Lanaudière, (514) 524-2444, lechienfumant.com, Metro: Laurier/Mont-Royal), or “the smoking dog.” There’s no dress code that says all male diners must wear three-day stubble, but it helps to blend in. From the chalkboard menu to the wide-open kitchen with all its attendant bustle, it’s the dining equivalent of free jazz—it’s hard to predict the next chord change, but you know it will be lively.

As we used to say in those elementary school oral book reports, if you want to know more, you have to read the book.

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25

07 2011