Since we are on the subject of Andre Natera and his restaurants in Highland Park Village, it might be worth noting that the chef recently added poutine to his menu at Village Kitchen. Poutine, you say? Yes, that luscious plate of steaming fried potatoes, laden with supple lumps of cheese curd and smothered with gravy. That poutine.
It could be argued that it is the national dish of Canada. Everywhere you go in Canada you will find a version of poutine on the menu. From the lowly McDonald’s version for $3.99, to the very elegant Au Pied de Cochon in Qubec with their foie gras version for a mere $23 Canadian. You cannot go anywhere, including a ballpark, without being able to order this dish. But most identify poutine as being sold at casse-croûtes, or a greasy spoon diner, or roadside chip wagons called cabanes à patates.
Let’s deconstruct poutine a bit and see what the obsession is all about. The fries are double cooked and slightly crisp on the outside to send up to the gravy. The potatoes should be creamy on the inside.
The cheese curd is the tricky part. A curd should be extremely fresh, bite-sized and have a rubbery “squeak” when you bite into it. This is the most difficult part to making a proper poutine.
The gravy is an extremely important aspect to poutine. It should be a thin brown gravy, preferably made of veal stock. In Canada you can find jars of poutine sauce, or mélange à sauce poutine, or even powdered versions, which are acceptable. You want it thin and unobtrusive, allowing the liquid to sift its way throughout the dish and infiltrate the potatoes and cheese.
The poutine at Village Kitchen stacks up extremely well. The cheese curds do not squeak, and chef Natera attests that we are simply too far north to have a proper curd shipped here. Remember, they should be less than a few days old. His potatoes are perfect, and fit well within my description.
The most enjoyable part of Natera’s version of poutine is the gravy. It is silky smooth with a familiar flavor profile. When asked about the gravy he shoots a huge grin and said it was his version of KFC gravy. It took several iterations of the gravy for the chef to perfect that certain taste KFC has for their gravy; the only difference is that his is the real deal with nothing artificial.
Poutine makes for a delightful addition to any meal, especially on a brisk evening when the wind opens your shutters. I can see myself enjoying a plate of poutine at the bar with a nice glass of white wine tonight.