Smoke’s Poutine

Smoke’s Poutinerie – Toronto, Canada

Poutine – /poo-teen/ noun  1. A French-Canadian dish consisting of French fries topped with stringy, rubbery, cheese curds, smothered in hot, brown gravy. 2. It’s really f%&$ good!

Fat Furnace – /fat fur-nis/  v  1. When you eat a dish with so many calories, that your body, in order to stay alive, starts converting the fat into body heat, causing a hot flush, brow wiping, and sweat.

Accoutrements – /ack-coo-tra-mints/ n  1. Bits and pieces [of food].

Province – /prah-vince/  n  1. In Canada, the word province is used instead of state. Example: Toronto is located in the province of Ontario.

Although I did my Chef training there, I have always said that Canada does not have a cuisine. China has a cuisine, India has a cuisine, Mexico has a cuisine, and even the USA has food items that define us: Apple pie, fried chicken, and hot dogs, to name a few. Before all you Canadians jump down my throat, hear me out…

Canada is made up of several provinces (states), and all but one are predominantly English. Only one province, Quebec, is French. And from Quebec we get a cuisine that is not only steeped in classical French tradition married to Canadian ingredients, but is also world-class in terms of flavor, variety and quality. Quebec is a food-lover’s paradise. The rest of Canada borrows from Quebec.

So when you speak of Canadian cuisine, you are really actually speaking of French-Canadian cuisine from Quebec.

The one dish that every Canadian knows, from Vancouver in the west, across the praries, through Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces, is poutine. You can ask for a poutine in any corner of Canada and you will receive (without question or hesitation) French fries, topped with cheese curds, drenched in hot brown gravy. It is to die for! And it has been adopted by many restaurants – including fast food chains such as: Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, etc. – as a side dish to accompany anything you can think of from burgers, to chicken, to lobster.

Smoke’s Poutinerie in Toronto, Canada, takes it a step further by offering a wide variety of accoutrements to add to your poutine, like: Pulled pork, chicken, peas, vegetables, (and my favorite) Montreal smoked beef brisket with Dijon mustard and a pickle, dubbed “Montreal Style”.

I couldn’t leave Toronto without a poutine. So last night we walked into one of several Smoke’s locations to get our hands on this Canadian treat. There are two sizes to choose from – regular and wow. My wife, being more sensible, got a regular “Momma Style” poutine with grilled chicken and peas. But I, over-confidently, attempted to take down a wow-sized “Montreal Style” poutine.  I’m sad to report that I was shamed by the wow size and was only able to finish half of it (which is probably like 2000 calories!) worth.

Having grown up eating poutine, I have come up with my own set of benchmarks by which to measure the quality of a poutine. Here is how Smoke’s Poutines scored in my books on a scale of 1 to 10..

Fries: Poutine fries should be fresh-cut, made from good quality PEI (Prince Edward Island) potatoes or Yukon Gold Potatoes, and fried at the right temperature (above 375) so that they do not soak up cooking oil while being deep-fried. They should be crispy on the outside, and soft in the middle. They should be lightly salted as soon as they come out of the deep-fryer so that the salt sticks to the moist surface. They should be cut to medium length to facilitate eating a poutine without wearing it, or keeping the floor warm with it.

Smoke’s Poutinery Fries Scored:  7/10

Comments: The fries tasted good, had the potato skin still on them (which I liked), but had soaked up too much oil during the deep-fry process which made them soggy and overly-greasy. The cooks did not fry them at a high enough temperature.

Cheese Curds: It is important that actual cheese curds be used, not just regular cheese. Cheese curds should be salty, squeaky, and melt into a delicious stringy mess when coming in contact with the gravy. White or orange cheddar cheese curds (from Quebec) should be used. I have also had success with cheese curds made in Wisconsin.

Smoke’s Poutinery Cheese Curds Scored: 7/10

Comments: Good taste and messy when melted, but were not squeaky, telling me they were not the freshest. They were also added to the fries in a clump instead of spread out before the gravy touched them. So, they remained in a clump after the gravy and accoutrements were put on top. Lazy cook.

Gravy: In Canada there is generally only one type of gravy – brown gravy made from a beef base and thickened with flour. Technically, in the culinary world, it is called a brown sauce. In Canada, you don’t need to specify brown gravy, you just say “gravy” and it is understood that you want brown gravy. This part of the poutine is the most crucial! If the gravy is too thick or too thin, it’s a fail. If it’s too salty, or not salty enough – fail. Too much beefy flavor or not enough – fail. Thickened with corn starch instead of flour – fail. It is the execution of a perfectly flavored, perfectly textured brown gravy (brown sauce) which determines the quality of the poutine, above all.

Smoke’s Poutinery Brown Gravy:  5/10

Comments: The gravy was a bit on the thin side, and weak. It soaked into the fries more than I would have liked. It should have been thick enough to resist absorption by the fries, and flavorful enough to show through the accoutrements on top. However, the little taste that I got from it was pleasant, so I didn’t give it a zero.

Accoutrements: Is not necessary to add accoutrements to a poutine, but since Smoke’s does, I am going to rate them.

Smoke’s “Montreal” Acccoutrements: Smoked brisket, Dijon mustard, and pickles.  7/10

Comments: The Dijon mustard was nice, smooth, and tasty. The smoked meat was really good, flavorful, moist and smokey! The pickles were… meh.

Smoke’s “Momma” Accoutrements: Peas and chicken. 8/10

Comments: The peas and chicken tasted good, and were mild enough to allow for the taste of the cheese curds and gravy to come through more so than in the “Montreal” poutine.

The bottom line: I enjoyed Smoke’s poutine. It was far from a perfect poutine, but it was enjoyable, and it was better than some I’ve had. To be honest, I think the cooks at that particular store could have made me a 10/10 poutine if they gave a s**t!  I’m happy that there’s a chain in Toronto that has decided to pay exclusive attention and dedicate themselves to the poutine. The idea is awesome, and so is the potential. Poutine is a worthwhile pursuit. With the right cooks, Smoke’s could be a real contender in the small world of poutine – they just have to hire people with passion. These guys were factory workers waiting for their shift to end. But I will definitely be back to try it again.

If you find yourself in Canada, you owe it to yourself to find and eat a nice poutine. This article will give you an idea of what you’re looking for.