Not all junk food needs to be junky. At its essence KFC’s mashed potato and gravy could be a thing of beauty if it wasn’t for questionable provenance and process. After all, we are just talking about a dish with essentially the same ingredients – potatoes, meat juices, flour and possibly dairy – that is served in many iterations.
Poutine is Canada’s take on the combination and my inspiration for this dish came about by happenstance. I had just come back from south-western Victoria, where I had bought some beautiful roadside potatoes from the greatest potato-growing region (Killarney-Koroit). I ran into my friend Anthony, who was in possession of an incredible batch of fresh cheese curds. Curds such as these don’t come along often as they are generally a byproduct of a less-than-ideal batch of cheese-in-the-making. Anthony had a beautiful squeaky and briny curd that stretched like mozzarella.
To place such curds over some lovely roasted potatoes and then douse the lot in gravy shouldn’t be seen as late-night food to feel guilty about. In fact, that goes for most dishes relegated to the naughty pile because of the processes of fast-food chains.
The oven-based gravy is the binding agent here and the process of making it is a technique I love. A gravy using just stock doesn’t seem to cut it in this dish. Nothing short of directly roasting fatty meat and thickening it with toasted flour can give such depth of flavour. I find the method of roasting it in the tray very consistent. The only thing to consider is that when straining the finished product you should really try hard to extract as much of the liquid as possible. It always seems to be the last few drops that are the tastiest.
Serves 4 as a snack or part of a meal
Time: 30 minutes preparation + 1 hour cooking
- 2kg waxy potatoes
- 100ml olive oil
- 1 whole onion
- 1 head of garlic
- 500g beef trim (fatty)
- 20ml sherry vinegar
- 30g flour
- 1 bunch rosemary
- 500g fresh cheese curds
- salt and black pepper
- chives (optional)
- Scrub the potatoes well, making sure any dirt is removed from crevices, then cut into thick fingers with the skin on. Place in a pot of heavily salted water and bring to the boil. Cook the potatoes until soft, strain them out and then let them steam until they are cool.
- Once at room temperature, put the potatoes in a baking dish and coat them in olive oil. Roast in a 190ºC oven for 40 minutes, then remove and set aside to be reheated later.
- Meanwhile, cut the onion and garlic into chunks with the skin still on. Cut the beef trim into similar-sized chunks and toss with the onion and garlic before placing the lot into a shallow tray and roasting at 180ºC for about one hour. This should brown heavily and render the fat.
- After an hour, add the sherry vinegar and then the flour. Stir to incorporate well, then place back in the oven for five minutes to cook the flour out.
- Remove the tray from the oven, place onto the stovetop and add 500 millilitres of water. Stir this well to pick up all of the caramelisation on the tray, then transfer into a small pot. Cook this on the stovetop and then add the rosemary. Simmer for 20 minutes and then strain and season.
- Crumble the cheese curds over the potatoes and return them to the oven at 180ºC for five minutes. Place in a serving dish and pour the gravy over.
- Finish with loads of cracked pepper and finesse with finely chopped chives if you are feeling it. And a green vegetable if you’re feeling guilty.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 6, 2022 as "Getting into a poutine".
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