Ode to My Pantry: Poutine

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.


What is the Canadianest thing possible. Beavers? Hockey? Maple syrup? Socialized healthcare? We’ve already started to share some of that with our southern neighbours, so aside from ketchup chips, poutine has to be one of the last things still attributed to Canucks. For the poutine-philic, the dish exemplifies a perfect balancing act, juxtaposing contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures into a portable dish. For the drunk, poutine is an ideal vector for starch, fat and salt to counteract all of those Caesars. For the uninitiated, poutine is an unholy mess.

 tried to take photos of the poutine I made and then s. There is no such thing as photogenic poutine. via Nadeau & Barlow

There is no such thing as photogenic poutine. via Nadeau & Barlow

But that last thought’s spot on because it is a mess, une maudite poutine if you will. Poutine’s history (both the word and the dish) are about as clear as reading through gravy-smeared glasses. I partially say this because my girlfriend lent out her poutine book so I’m relying on internet hearsay, but also because there are lot of claims made when it comes to Quebec’s apple pie. Did the name poutine come about as a take on the English pudding? Or a Southern French word for hodgepodge? Was it created by a kitchen in Warwick? Or Drummondville or Victoriaville? Or that diner in Trois-Rivières my friend grew up with? Or was it really just a universal good idea, because who doesn’t get a bit glassy eyed working at a deep fryer and think, I could put cheese on that.
Even though it’s a working class food and every mom n’ pop diner has their own take on fries and curds, foodies have latched onto the idea. Who doesn’t love fried things topped topped with squeaky things smothered in goop? Poutine festivals are popping up all over Canada asking top restauranteurs to elevate my Shove This Into Your Drunk Piehole While You’re Hiding in A Jungle Gym meal into haute cuisine. But fuckit, life isn’t Iron Chef where you can just throw lobster or truffles onto everything! Before you start getting fancy with your fixin’s, remember that like all things, you gotta start with a good base. Fries. Gravy. Curds. This is all you need. Even though you can play somewhat loose and easy with fries and sauce, you have to show respect to the most important part.
This is what heaven looks like via the Kitchn

This is what heaven looks like via the Kitchn

Repeat after me:
  • Mozzarella is not a cheese curd
  • Grated cheddar is not a cheese curd
  • Parmesan is not a cheese curd
  • Orange cheese curds are cheese curds but stick to the white ones anyways.
Cheese curds are magical blobs of proto-cheese unlike your market’s other offerings. On the road from milk to market, cheese curds take a bit of a detour from cheddar and then a second detour into my mouth. Sure, the milk’s still collected, warmed and curdled with rennet. And yup, the curdled milk is separated and formed into a block to let the proteins knit together. Then the cheese block is cut up again to get some of the whey out of the way and mixed with salt.
Add heat and/or bacon.

Add heat and/or bacon.

But while cheddar is reformed and pressed into blocks and allowed to age, curds go straight into a baggie. And then delivered to your local grocer, cheese shop and/or gas station (I’m never going to understand the last one).
The ideal curd should be wet, mild, briny and squeaky. If you never heard your cheese talk before, it’s because cheddars have their whey pressed out whereas curds have a high water content. But leave curds long enough and they’ll dry out and become mute as well. Quiet meals sound like a good thing, but they’re not. Since they’re only preserved by salt, curds tend to go downhill quite quickly. Be aware of any soapy or ammonia-y scents that develop. No one wants to have Windex-y fries!
While anything besides a squeaky cheese is sacrilege, you can let your creativity get the best of the rest of your poutine. Top your fries with a healthy dose of curds before smothering it in a basic brown gravy. Chicken and veal-based veloutés are traditional, but you can bet your boots it doesn’t stop there. Pour on a Bolognese for a poutine italienne. Or a Hollandaise for a breakfast poutine. Or a green peppercorn-speckled beer-based sauce like my favourite taproom. Poutine also gets along great with friends as long as they are small and stab-able. Raw onions are weird, but sauteed mushrooms, peas and onions are always a good choice. If you want a heartier caloric load, add some bacon, sausage, smoked meat or sliced corndogs. Or you know, throw duck confit or a lobster at it. But if all of those choices seem like too much work, you can just do it the Harto way.
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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 139 articles for us.


  1. YES thank you about the clarification on cheese curds. i’m living in seoul at the moment, and i haven’t been able to find poutine that’s not made from shredded cheese. it’s one of the things i miss the most about canada, along with multiculturalism and cannabis.

  2. I knew my love of poutine must have been a gay thing.

    Also, anyone attempted to veganize poutine? Sacrilege, I know, but what’s a poutine-loving Canada-philic vegan to do? You can’t always pour maple syrup over everything.

    • I have before and it’s only semi-successful. I’m sure you could google it though.

    • I’ve had a vegan version with salsa, jalapeños + guacamole. Obviously not the same taste at all but still good.

    • Yes! Use Daiya for the cheese, find/make an awesome mushroom gravy, and make sure it’s hot enough to melt the cheese. Also: layer fries, gravy, and cheese for an even melt if you’re not using cheese curds.

      Poutini’s House of Poutine in Toronto does a good job of this for anyone around there.

    • Yup! As an adopted Canadian who was vegan before I set foot on these shores, I had to veganise poutine. I believe it may be a citizenship requirement at some point. http://www.thetastyvegan.com/blog/vegan-poutine-the-dream-becomes-real/

      I am assured by non-vegans that this is good in its own right, but I’m also informed that it really isn’t the same as the cheese curds. I might try making it with a new vegan cashew goat cheese recipe though… when the weather cools down!

  3. I literally just tweeted about poutine last night – I must have read your mind. Kudos, also, for the Harto plug.

  4. Whoa my god does that sound amazing.. I’m pretty sure most anything is made 100x better with the addition of cheese curds. But I’m from Wisconsin so maybe I’m biased. Note to self and other cheese heads.. do not try to explain what a cheese curd is to your southern college friends.

    • I had no idea what a cheese curd was until I moved to Wisconsin. Now I look forward to fresh curds from the farmer’s market every time I go.

    • I’ve never had poutine (though it sounds delicious), but I do love cheese curds! There is a little cheese factory near where I live (in Iowa). You can watch them making cheese, and you can buy cheese curds there that are squeaky and actually still warm. YUM now I am hungry for cheese curds…

      • There was an amazing place for cheese curds between Montreal and Ottawa which sadly burnt down. So really what I’m saying is you shouldn’t put off to tomorrow what you can eat today.

  5. It took me a long time to realize that poutine is not a “side dish” when ordered at restaurants, even if it’s at like, a pizza joint. Eventually I learned my lesson.

  6. Guess I’m gonna have to learn how to make poutine, since I live in Virgina and can’t afford a trip to Canada. Is it acceptable to use frozen fries?

    • Of course! Just get ’em crisp. I feel like you can play loose and easy with ANYTHING as long as you have curds.

  7. I spent a few weeks living in rural Quebec where they sold cheese curds every morning at recess to the kids. Pretty fabulous.

  8. “Mozzarella is not a cheese curd”

    FUCKING ROYT! When I was in high school, the staff in the cafeteria tried to convince us that that the strategically arranged balls of melted mozzarella they placed on the fries were cheese curds. Psh!

    • Some friends had to fake cheese curds to make a poutine. Apparently you can freeze bocconcini and let the outside come to room temperature to sort of imitate cheese curds? Because it’ll taste milky and not melt too badly/ This is what I hear. But I also live in the world of gas station cheese curds so I don’t think I need to

  9. Celebrating Canada Day in a country that is not Canada has officially been made bearable by this post. I explained poutine to the family I’m staying with and the mom just about fainted at the unhealthiness of it all. Which would obviously mean more for me and she would just have to miss out on this brilliant bit of heaven.

  10. Poutine sounds sort of like a cutesy term of endearment, which I guess it could be depending on how much you love curds and fries with gravy. In my case it definitely would be.

  11. Just moved back to Interior BC from New Brunswick/Nova Scotia and I have been hankering for poutine ever since! We have it out here but so often without cheese curds and half-assed gravy… This needs to become a worldwide sensation so I can enjoy it when I move back to Australia!

    • If you’re near Nelson, BC, I have it on good authority that Mike’s Place does good proper poutine…

  12. Just want to say that poutine is not a “canadian” dish, it’s a québécois dish :) And if you want to know in Québec cheese curds is called “fromage(chesee) squish-squish” !

  13. the first time i had poutine was at an irish restaurant that was near a mall, so i’m 100% sure it was the most inauthentic poutine a person could ever eat, but holy moses it was delicious. we made our own version at home after that and probably didn’t use cheese curds, but still, so good.

    now i feel very empowered and ready to make a (slightly more) authentic version of this dish. thanks kristen! and happy canada day!

    • Disco fries are delicious! They just aren’t poutine. But they are fucking delicious!

  14. I love poutine, whenever I head back to Canada it’s the first thing I get. Once it cools down and is no longer as hot as the surface of the sun, I’m totally picking up some curds making some homemade poutine

    • Nevermind, screw waiting for the weather to cool down. I’m combining Canada Day and Independence Day and having poutine on the 4th, it’ll be perfect.

      • I made poutine for my friend by baking fries for 45 minutes instead of deep frying it. Bad idea. But then we realized we could hang out not in the kitchen. Better idea. But if you have enough cold beers to counteract the heat and complement the poutine it’s pretty perfect

  15. I grew up in Ontario, Canada and couldn’t get behind poutine, well, it was the cheese curds, i loved fries with gravy well enough. Other Canadian fare that seemed appropriate for today but I cannot get proper ingredients for in the US — a peameal on a toasted kaiser — you know, the back bacon with the yellow cornmeal around the edge? Whatever I find stateside is just not the same. Also — very Canadian but a more recent commercial item is a flat donut with different toppings kind of thing: BeaverTails. No kidding. Makes me smile every time.

    • I never understood when I should have called it a whale tail vs a beaver tail. But in general, giant donutty things covered in powdered sugar.

  16. I’ve heard that word thrown around and always assumed it was chicken gone wrong. Guess I was wrong.

  17. I love cheese and I’m not sure why I’ve never had cheese curds but this sounds amazing!!

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