Having inherited much of their culinary arts from England, it’s no surprise much of Canadian cuisine tends to feel a bit utilitarian. With such long winters, it’s no wonder meals are designed for sustenance rather than dynamic flavors. But leave it to the French (Canadians) of Quebec to produce what is arguably Canada’s finest and well-known contribution to the culinary world: Poutine!
Originally created in the 1950’s in rural Quebec, poutine is a combination of french fries, light brown gravy, and fresh cheese curds and serves as the Canadian equivalent to Chili Cheese Fries. Depending on your mood, it can easily be considered an appetizer, main meal, or late night snack. Served in pubs, diners, and late night food stands, poutine has grown in popularity throughout the country and is now widely embraced as Canada’s national dish.
Ever since visiting Vancouver in 2012, Megan has been hooked on poutine. When we lived in Los Angeles, we were constantly on the hunt for it, scouring the menus of food trucks and dive bars all over. But alas, Los Angeles is a taco town. Now that we’re on a yearlong tour of North America, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say we’ve been counting down the days until we crossed into Poutine Country. At last, we arrived in to British Columbia and found ourselves awash in poutine options. Every restaurant served it, every bar served it, even the McDonald’s and Burger King’s served it. Poutine was everywhere. Everywhere except for our campsite.
We knew it would never be possible to create genuine poutine while camping, but we were determined to try. Given the limitations of cooking in the outdoors we made a couple modifications to the traditional recipe while retaining the essence of the dish. When done right, pan fried potato slices can be pretty close to deep fried “fries.” And while Babybel cheese is not quite the same as fresh cheese curds, they’re much easier to store and transport. The end result wouldn’t pass muster in Montreal, but for us, it is close enough.
So now when we’re hunkered down at our campsite and the poutine hunger strikes, we’ve got the solution to satisfy our craving – at least until morning, when we can drive into town for a proper helping.
Camp Eats: Cast Iron Poutine
Serves 2 hungry campers, or 4 as a side
One of the biggest challenges to making fries in a camp kitchen is the frying part – deep frying leaves you with a pot full of oil which is difficult to dispose of in a safe and Leave No Trace acceptable manner. Instead of deep frying, we opted to use a smaller amount of oil and pan fry the potatoes instead. The key is to keep the oil hot and to toss the potatoes fairly frequently so that all the sides spend some time crisping up.
For the fries
¼ – ⅓ cup oil (depending on the size of your cast iron)
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed well
For the gravy
1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon AP flour
1 cup vegetable broth
½ tablespoon soy sauce
4 Babybel cheeses
salt + pepper to taste
Begin by pre-heating the oil in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven. This can be done on a hot campfire, or on your camp stove.
Cut the potatoes into fries, about ¼ – ½ inch thick (peel them first, if you prefer).
To test the oil, put one fry in the cast iron. As soon as the oil begins bubbling around the edges, the oil is hot enough. Add in the potatoes, in a even of a layer as possible. Toss as needed to ensure even frying. Once the fries are golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes, take the cast iron off the heat and carefully remove the fries, placing them on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
While the potatoes are frying, make the gravy. In a pot on your camping stove, heat the ghee or butter until hot. Add the shallots and saute for a minute or two until they become soft and translucent. Add the flour, stir to incorporate into the butter. Cook briefly until just turning pale golden (this takes away the raw flour taste). Slowly add the broth and then the soy sauce, stirring as you add the liquid to prevent the gravy from clumping. Bring to a low boil, and cook until the gravy thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5-7 minutes.
To assemble, split the fries between two bowls or plates. Top with the gravy and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and dig in!
We are stoked to be featuring Megan & Michael on their culinary road trip through North America. Follow them here!