Archive for the ‘poutine’Category

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