Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes: an ongoing war against clean sober living perpetuated by a Batman-villain-esque madman. I’m your Cooking Czar of Hell’s Kitchen, Jon O’Guin. Today’s recipe is a really important and cool milestone for the site! It’s the first totally SUCCESSFUL recipe creation for us! Yes, as you may recall, Kitchen Catastrophes has only attempted to create its own recipe once before, with Brocco-gus Soup, a dish that may have worked, may not have, but no one felt like eating it so it went to waste. I blame cancer, an act I am swiftly running out of time to do.
As a quick side note, yes, as that last sentence implies, my father Is, to all current medical knowledge, finally recovering from his bout with the Crab Sickness. He IS still recovering, as he’s lost a lot of muscle mass and energy from the treatments, but if the doctors are to believed, against my advisement, then we’re officially heading OUT of the woods, not deeper in. This was a cause for celebration, which happily coincides with today’s recipe, which is one heck of a special dessert plate. So let’s pop a couple bottles of bubbly, and toast the town with some dessert poutine.
Poutine on The Ritz
I strive to never read my own work, an attitude that strangely never really hurt me in my academic career until I hit an entry level English class in college. At which point I promptly failed multiple semesters, and then just got the credit from a Critical Thinking and Writing class in Philosophy. I relied on the 400-level writing-based classes I was taking as solace from that failure.
If at first you don't succeed, fuck that shit, burn it down, and change your name.
As such, I can only be reasonably sure that I’ve never talked about Poutine on the site before. If I have, well, my bad, at least now you know why I repeat myself so often. (Actually, THAT’s because I can never be sure which posts people have and haven’t read, so thoroughly covering the same points is just good practice to ensure reader comprehension.)
Poutine is a Canadian dish, specifically a Québécois dish, meaning, as anyone with pattern recognition and passing knowledge of Canadian geography could guess, that it comes from Quebec. Quebec is an…interesting case in terms of Canadian politics. In essence, as you may remember from my discussion of Newfoundland back during the summer, Canada was much more divided in terms of which nations were settling it, and how governments handled them. America, by right of exploding into a new nation with its own rules, MOM, kind of over-stepped a lot of the issues that Canada faced in the 1600-1800’s, and yes, even today.
Basically, what the issue is, is that Quebec got settled by the French, and then the English settled…everything else around it. Eventually, they just took Quebec too. And then they gave It back as a wedding present, and then they took it again later. Eventually, the British governors of the region noticed that their 99% French populace was looking a little…’revolution-y’. So they passed a law saying “Look, you can keep your French laws, your French language, and you can all keep being Catholic. As long as we’re still in charge.” Too sweeten the pot, they also offered them a bunch of land south of the Great Lakes that they could expand into and take. After all, it’s not like the Americans were using it. They were busy being BAD BOYS and THROWING OUR TEA IN THE HARBOR. Did I mention this was happening in 1774? Yeah, we…didn’t take that offer very well.
We tried invading them to show how unhappy it made us, and they politely but firmly kicked our fucking teeth in. Yeah, the first major loss of the American military was to Canada. Specifically, FRENCH Canada.
Quebec has always been the odd duck in Canada because of that outsider status. It’s why all the signs have to be in English and French, it’s tried to basically secede several times, and a lot of Canada had varying levels of distaste for the region, seeing them as…well, French stereotypes. They’re basically the “Texas” of Canada, except being violently FOR being bilingual, not against it.
So when in the 1950’s and 60’s a ridiculous snack food showed up in the region, it’s actually pretty easy to see why most Canadians thought it was a dumb idea, and mocked it. That snack was French fries topped with cheese curds, with a ladle of brown gravy, called “poutine”.
Talkin’ your fancy talk, poutine on airs.
Short word-nerd detour here: no one really knows where the name comes from. The BEST guess is that it’s a twist on the word “pudding”, hilariously itself taken from Old French Boudin. Meaning it’s a Frenched version of a English word stolen from a French word. Also, if you track what the word REFERS to, it goes “fries with toppings” to “sweet custard” to “intestinal sausage”. Making anything pudding based simply a linguistic garbage fire.
Seriously, these are, in order: black, vanilla, and plum puddings. And this isn't even WITH the linguistic shifting!
All that aside, the best guess for the name comes from the fact that the word ‘poutine’ was slang in Quebec for a time as “a mess”. Supposedly the process went like this: “Poutine” referred to “puddings” in the classic English sense: fat little cakes, or other fat little bread things, like dumplings. This turned into a term for women, specifically those…of a low height-to-width ratio. Potentially this was meant to be complimentary: like, calling one’s girlfriend “cupcake”, they were just being a little more…precise on whom got called that, and it swiftly ceased being a compliment. And then, they had a word for ‘a fat woman’, and used it to describe things that were…SIGH…a hot fucking mess or a waste of time. Thanks, 1900’s Canada, for reminding us that Sexism truly is international.
AS I WAS SAYING, the story goes that a customer asked a chef to toss some cheese curds on top of his French fries, and the chef responded with “It’s gonna make a damn mess!” or "ça va faire une maudite poutine!" Weirdly, this widespread story has NEVER been ascribed to the restaurant that has official recognition of being the first to serve poutine, so it’s entirely possible it was invented by one restaurant, and named by another.
Fascinatingly, the arc of the rise of Poutine is rather short: invented in the late 1950’s, it was regarded as a trashy food for the Quebecois: as recently as 1987 a Canadian newspaper called it the worst culinary disaster of the 20th century. However, by the 2000’s, it had gained a fairly strong following, and was branching in the US as well. As far as I can tell, this had at least something to do with a famous prank pulled on George W Bush and several other Americans during the 2000 presidential elections, where a fake reporter asked their opinion on “Prime Minister of Canada Jean Poutine” backing George Bush. The prime minister of Canada was Jean Chrétien, a fact that NONE of those interviewed noticed. George Bush referenced the joke in his first official trip to Canada, to much amusement.
From there, the dish has just been genuinely popular. It’s considered stellar bar food, in the same way that Nachos are an American bar food darling. I’m a pretty big fan of them myself, only refraining from making them at home because…well, I hate deep frying things. I’ve had one too many oil burns to be fully comfortable cooking in anything less than a great setting.
Too often, it turns into a great mistake
But recently, and I swear to you this is an honest account of events, I had a dream. I was driving through Oregon with my cousin. We were looking for my brother, for reasons I didn’t fully understand. Fast forward through a bunch of unnecessary details, we’re stopped and we’re getting lunch. I walk in, and on the restaurant menu, it has like, six poutines. Including three dessert poutines. I honestly don’t recall what two of them were, but the third was noted as being “apple fries, Caramel sauce, and (illegible)”. I woke up the next morning, and I wrote it down. A quick check of the internet showed me that Apple fries were a thing, and dessert poutines were a thing, but apple-fry dessert poutines were not. I knew what I had to do.
Taking off the Kid Gloves, Poutine on my Big-Boy Pants
This recipe is actually basically 3 smaller recipes, stacked in each other like Matryoshka, a word I definitely spelled right, first try, no help. (I’ve always pronounced it “Mah-troy-shka”, so learning the y is before the O is weird.) Basically, you need apple fries, you need caramel sauce, and you need (illegible). Super helpful there, right?
Well, every poutine I’ve eaten (with one notable exception) uses white cheese curds, so whatever the secret third thing would be, it would need to be white. I considered a couple options here: marshmallows made sense, but I felt like they’d be either too easy or too hard, depending if I made them myself of not; I could use an actual softer cheese, as apples pair well with cheese…I still haven’t ruled this out, but I figured it would complicate the initial pitch for too many people, who don’t think of cheese as a dessert option; Candied walnuts for some crunch sounded nice, but wouldn’t have the right color OR texture for the curd; eventually, I came to a decision: nougat.
Nougat, if you’re unfamiliar, is a sort of airy, chewy confection of varying hardness. It’s used in a TON of desserts and candies. And when I looked up the recipe for it, it was quite simple. However, I’m actually going to breeze past that for the moment. Not because it’s not important, oh no. It’s SO important that I know I don’t have time to do it justice today! So what I’m going to do is break this Catastrophe down cookbook style. Today we’ll learn exactly how to make Apple Fries, and I’ll talk about how they look and taste doused in the toppings, and Thursday, I’ll give you the breakdown of the nougat and Caramel.
If YOU need a breakdown of nougat and chocolate today, try a Mars Bar. Mars Bar: We still exist, we just don't care about advertising.
Side note: did you know we named Snickers after our horse? True story.
I promise, if you think that tactic feels a little cheap, know that I am vastly more upset than you at this idea. We’re in the middle of one of my greatest triumphs of cooking for the site, and I’m fucking fumbling the ball writing it out. I’m legitimately upset right now; I’ve rewritten this paragraph SIX times to try and convey to you how crucial this is: Firstly, I honestly thought we’d ALREADY covered the caramel sauce, so I thought I was writing TWO recipes. Second, the caramel sauce and nougat I use are useful for a VARIETY of things beyond simply this recipe, and can be made DAYS ahead of the fries to make the process easier! IF anything, I should write THEIR POST first, but I’m only just know realizing that, and it’s too late to back out now. So, join your broken and beleaguered Bat-villain, hoisted by his own hubris, as he makes some actual pommes frites, a linguistic twist so good,* it stopped this from spiraling into me canceling Monday’s post and drinking heavily for the rest of the night.
(*For the curious: the French call potatoes pommes de terre, or “apples of the earth”. So when they started cutting them up and frying them in oil, they called the dish pommes frites, MEANING “fried potatoes”, but literally SAYING “Fried Apples”. Technically, the French have always called French fries "Apple Fries".)
Apple Puns Can Be Heavy Topics. Just ask Newton.
The process for apple fries is very simple. Every step of these is actually quite simple, but, as I noted last week, simple does not always mean ‘easy’. Now, in a perfect world, you’d start this recipe with some tart Granny Smith apples, so the crisp tang stands up to the sweetness. We…didn’t have time to balance that, so we just used whatever apple Costco was selling. They turned out to be Galas.
Which apparently time-traveling science apples, according to this packaging.
Take your pod-fruit, and turn them into something that looks like fries. I used two separate tools to do this, because no one was stopping me. First, I used a corer, for potentially the first time in my life, since I don’t remember ever doing so before. It was oddly satisfying, and the simple act of using it actually convinced me it was worth it versus simply cutting up an apple to get the seeds.
Next, I needed to ‘French Fry them’, which is actually what the word “julienning” refers to most of the time. So the next time someone says “It’ll even Julienne fries!”, now you finally know what that means. Luckily, my mother had a box that could do that.
"Put them in the ebon-black blade box!"
I did not ask where the blade-box came from, because I feared the dark answers I would receive. Anywho, punch the apples into the box, and personally I picked through and tossed out any of the quasi-fries from where the cored hole met the grid.
After that, the process to turn theses into fries is a simple 1-2-3, with each step serving as a new special torment designed specifically for me.
First, Toss them in cornstarch to cover. Personally, I hate working with cornstarch. It cakes on my hands, and rubbing it against itself feels like rubbing Styrofoam against itself sounds. It never fails to put me on edge, despite constantly and reliably giving me delightful crispy coatings.
Heh heh heh. You need me, O'Guin. So grit your teeth, and rub us down!
After that, or before, whenever, heat up vegetable oil in a pot. You want at least an inch of oil in the bottom of the pan. We used a fairly small one, so we got away with maybe a pint of oil or so, but a bigger pan will let you fry more apple fries at once, at the cost of more oil wasted.
As noted earlier, this was a blast for me because deep-frying is my absolute least favorite way to cook things because of the whole “seared by boiling oil” incidents. But, sometimes, you gotta accept things have to be done a certain way, at least until you actually learn how those “air-fryers” you keep hearing about work.
don't burn me don't burn me don't burn me don't burn me
When the oil’s hot, just toss in the dredged fries, and fry for about 2-3 minutes, but depending on how crowded the pot is, you may go as long as 4-5. I’d just judge by sight and feel. After the first couple batches, you get the swing of it. You’re looking for lightly browned, and crisp. Interestingly, the original recipe I was using noted you should peel your fries, and I found out why: the cornstarch will fall RIGHT OFF the peel once in the oil. This wasn’t too bad, but it made the oil a murky mess by the end, so that we couldn’t re-use it. So if you don’t peel the fries first (honestly, the skins give a nice look of potato fries) then try to minimize how much cornstarch ends up on the peel side.
Once the fries are, well, fried, scoop them out and let them dry on some paper towels for a few minutes before tossing them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Now, I’ve heard some people mix these in a 1 to 1 ratio. To which I say, GOOD LORD WHY? Cinnamon is a very potent spice! Trust me, he’s not going to get over-powered! Our mix was 4 to 1 sugar to cinnamon, and he was still EASILY the more prominent flavor. Please, use your cinnamon responsibly!
Once your fries are dusted, just toss them on a plate, and top with your DEFINITELY ALREADY PREPARED TOPPINGS of nougat and caramel sauce. And, honestly, it looks like at least half of the poutines I’ve ever eaten.
Is the recipe perfect? No. Honestly, while I didn’t think this was quite too far in terms of sweetness, I felt it came close. The nougat needs something more, or maybe something like a marscapone cheese would do well. While it wasn’t too far, something to cut the sweetness would have been welcome. Granny smiths would help, as would maybe something like crushed toasted walnuts and a little salt. Still, Nathan’s verdict on the dish was “adequate”, which, I will note, is roughly the Nathan equivalent of awarding a dish an Oscar. This is a guy who’s “Not half bad” amounts to a Four star review! So we’re definitely on the right path, here. Next time, we may just go full EGOT.
THURSDAY: JON BRINGS YOU THE SAUCES THAT CURRENTLY WRACK HIS SOUL, IN KITCHEN CATASTROPHE 92.5!
MONDAY: THE OGUINS GO AUTHENTIC WITH A BOX-DINNER FAVORITE: SHELLS IN WHITE CHEDDAR.
Apple Fry Dessert Poutine
3 Apples, preferably Granny Smith
2/3 cup cornstarch
Vegetable oil for frying
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
Soft White Nougat (I’ll have a link to the Thursday post here)
Caramel Sauce (Same as the nougat)
1. Fill a medium saucepan or pot with at least 1” of oil, and heat over medium high-heat.
2. While oil is heating, core and julienne apples, peeling them if you’d prefer. Toss apple fries in cornstarch to coat. Combine cinnamon and sugar, mixing well.
3. Cooking in batches, fry your apples in the oil for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oil, and let dry for a few minutes on paper towels.
4. Sprinkle cooked fries with cinnamon sugar, and move to a serving plate. Top with nougat and caramel sauce to your liking, and serve warm.