What's Cooking in... Ottawa

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 56 of the December 2013 issue.
Truffled Poutine ready to serve.

My husband, John, and I are always on the lookout for unique recipes, especially anything that is characteristic of a locality. On our visit to Ottawa in August 2013, we didn’t think we would find something uniquely Canadian, since the culinary cultures of Canada and the United States are so closely linked, but we did!

We were being hosted at the Fairmont Château Laurier (1 Rideau St., Ottawa, ON, K1N 8S7, Canada; 866/540-4410), where rates for a double room range from US$320 to $420 per night.

We decided to dine in the hotel at La Terrasse, a patio restaurant with a great view of the Parliament buildings, and on the menu one item caught our attention: “Truffled Poutine — Fresh Cut Fries, Truffled Gravy, House Made Curds” at US$15.

This is a dish that originated in Québec about 50 years ago. Legend has it that the name “poutine” comes from Fernand Lachance of Warwick, Québec. Supposedly, he had a customer who asked him to add cheese curd to his takeout order of French fries, to which Lachance replied, “Ça va faire une maudite poutine” (“It will make a damn mess”). Today poutine is a popular comfort-food dish, especially in ski resorts.

Chef Louis Simard presenting Truffled Poutine. Photos by Sandra Scott.

I never associated truffles with French fries and comfort food. When I asked about the truffled gravy, the waitress said she’d get the chef so he could answer all of my questions.

Executive Chef Louis Simard told us that poutine was a new addition to the menu. He said, “When people travel, they often look for comfort food. Once in a while one needs to indulge. Here at the Château Laurier, we step up the poutine with the truffled gravy.”

I was surprised to learn that the hotel makes its own cheese curd. Simard said, “… it took two months to get the process just right.” 

When I mentioned using frozen French fries, he said, “The French Canadians would never forgive us if we used frozen fries.”

Simard said poutine is adaptable and that, once, at an event, he set up a poutine station where people could add crab, lobster, foie gras and Montreal smoked brisket. 

Simard invited us into the kitchen to see the dish being assembled, and he shared the truffled gravy recipe with us. 

While one of the chefs, Julia Gindra, was assembling the poutine, I asked her if she liked it. She said she was from South Africa and that when she first arrived in Canada she didn’t care for poutine, but now she enjoys it — though not every day. 

I think it makes a good dish to share.

2 tsp cornstarch
1 oz black truffle oil
French fried potatoes
Cheese curd
40 oz chicken stock
5 tsp butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tsp flour
Bundle of fresh thyme
Bundle of fresh oregano

Reduce chicken stock by half and set aside. Lightly sauté the garlic in butter, add the flour and cook over low heat until golden brown (4 to 5 minutes), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to make a brown roux. Using a whisk, slowly incorporate the reduced chicken stock into the roux. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the fresh herbs. In a small bowl, add enough cold water to the cornstarch to dissolve it, then mix it into the boiling sauce. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes at a low boil, remove from heat, add the truffle oil and stir.

To assemble the poutine, start with a layer of French fries, sprinkling them with cheese curd and a splash of truffle oil. Repeat twice and top with the truffle sauce, enough to coat the entire dish. Place under a broiler for 1 minute for a crispy top.