If Canada were to have a national dish, it may just be poutine. Invented in Quebec in the late fifties, there are several claims of origin; a cafe owner in Warwick is said to have made some for a trucker who asked for both fries and cheese curds-another from Drummondville added gravy, supposedly to keep the mess warm.
Poutine is simply (and deliciously) a pile of medium-cut French fries topped with fresh cheddar curds and typically a chicken based sauce – not really gravy, but more of a peppered velouté (a simple sauce made with a butter-flour roux, with chicken stock added), but the standard sauce has since become the St. Hubert brand that comes from a pouch. If you want to do it from scratch, start with a tablespoon or two each of butter and flour in a saucepan; whisk to a paste over medium heat and then whisk in 2-4 cups of chicken stock, whisking until bubbly and thickened. Season with salt and pepper – especially pepper, if you’re going for authenticity.
A true poutine is made with very fresh cheese curds – no more than a day old – so that they squeak when you bite into them
I came across an old Cooks Illustrated story about French fries made with an entirely new method, wherein cold potato is set in cold oil in a pot and then brought to a boil together, much like you’d do when boiling potatoes in water. The crazy part is – there’s apparently less oil in the finished cold-start fries than in traditional ones. They’re simple and foolproof – definitely worth a try.
The original recipe seems a little wordier than I think it needs to be – I didn’t measure my oil, nor my potatoes. I didn’t use bacon fat (although that does seem worth a try, don’t you think?) and I cut two potatoes (unpeeled) into even sticks and put them in a pot, then covered them with canola oil. I did as I was told and covered the pot to bring it to a boil, which did indeed take about 5 minutes, but then I took the lid off (there’s condensation there – you don’t want that in your oil) and let it bubble away. It was odd, like I was boiling potatoes, only with oil. I gave them a stir after about 10 minutes, and in about 20 they were beautiful and golden. I took them out to drain on paper towels and showered them with salt. They had a lovely texture. Even more so with the cheese curds and sauce. Happy Canada Day!