What Is Poutine?

Updated: Feb. 08, 2024

Quebec is famous for more than just Celine Dion. Find out what is poutine and why you'll want to try this Canadian favorite comfort food no matter where you call home.

Besides maple syrup and Nanaimo bars, poutine has to be one of Canada’s most delicious culinary exports. And if you’ve never had the pleasure of sampling this Quebecois comfort food, let us fill you in on what is poutine.

Poutine—pronounced poo-teen—is a dish that originated in rural Quebec in the 1950s. While its precise origins are hotly debated, even by Canadians, one thing is for sure: Poutine is a dish best served piping hot and covered in gravy.

What Is Poutine?

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Poutine is thought to come from the French Canadian slang term for mess. But don’t let that turn you off of this Canadian favorite. Some of the best eats often require plenty of napkins, like barbecued ribs and chicken wings.

This dish starts with a bed of hot, hand-cut french fries. Then a layer of white cheddar cheese curds is scattered on top. The dish is all finished with a generous drizzle of brown gravy. The gravy melts the cheese creating an ooey-gooey treat that’s perfect for sharing as an appetizer or for gobbling up yourself when you’re ravenous.

What Does Poutine Taste Like?

So what does this combination of fries, gravy and cheese taste like? No surprise here, but it’s delicious!

The french fries provide crispness and saltiness—two must-haves for any savory snack. The cheese is mellow and creamy. Combine that with a rich gravy that marries the two while also adding savoriness and you’ve got a winner of an appetizer (or meal!).

The experience of eating this street food is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Some fries will be crisp on one end and laden with gravy on the other. Other bites will be covered in wonderfully stretchy cheese. Just be sure to grab a fork (or plenty of napkins) to eat those last bites.

How to Make Poutine

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Making your own poutine is a breeze. You can go all-in with scratch-made fries and gravy or use convenience items to make quick work of creating this snack at home. This recipe comes to us from contributor Shelisa Terry and makes four servings.

Go to Recipe

Step 1: Procure cheese curds

White cheddar cheese curds are the most unique component of this Quebecois dish but are essential for authentic poutine. Cheese curds are small, perfectly imperfect pieces of cheese. Curds are essentially cheese before its molded into bricks or wheels. Cheese curds are fresh and exceptionally tender making them ideal for melting over fries and gravy.

If you can’t find cheese curds near you, cut up a block of your favorite white cheddar cheese into small cubes—go for the size of a die or smaller.

Step 2: Prep the fries

French fries form the base of any poutine. Start by making the straight-cut fries of your choosing. You can make fries from scratch, try air-fryer french fries or even use your favorite bag of frozen fries. All will work.

Step 3: Make the gravy

One of the great things about poutine is that the recipe isn’t fussy. You’ll find that across Quebec, folks make this comfort food with chicken gravy, beef gravy—any gravy that they prefer. You can do the same with this recipe.

If you want to stir up something fast, there’s no shame in prepping a packet of gravy from the supermarket. For maximum flavor, use beef or chicken broth—or a mix of both. When you want to go totally homemade, try this easy chicken gravy from our Test Kitchen.

Step 4: Assemble and enjoy

All that’s left to do is put everything together! Fill a shallow dish with plenty of fries, scatter a healthy amount of cheese curds on top, then drizzle on plenty of gravy. Make sure the gravy and fries are very hot; this will help the curds to melt so you get that irresistible cheese-pull moment.

If you like, garnish with green onion, chives, fresh-ground black pepper or even a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese! Next, check out Canada’s best comfort foods.

Types of Poutine

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Fries, gravy and cheese are the essential components of poutine, but these basics are rife for riffing. Here are some simple ways to make it your own.

  • Cheese: The easiest way to switch up the flavor of your poutine is by swapping out the type of cheese curds in the recipe. White cheddar is traditional, but you can swap in any flavor you like. Visit local dairies for a variety of flavors ranging from garlic to sriracha to ranch to jalapeño.
  • Herbs and veggies: Mince some chives, slice up green onion or even scatter sliced jalapeños over the top of poutine. It adds visual appeal and great flavor. Also, consider layering other flavors like sauteed mushrooms or peppers.
  • Protein: One way to transform poutine from cheesy appetizer to filling main is by adding the protein of your choice. This short rib poutine recipe uses low-and-slow cooked beef. You can also use yesterday’s rotisserie chicken or vegan chicken nuggets to round out this recipe.
  • Flavor fusion: While this dish is Canadian, you can easily incorporate a world of flavors into it. Celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan has a mouthwatering tandoori chicken poutine on the menu at Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville. At Taste of Home, we’ve incorporated southwestern flavors into the mix with this green chile and adobo poutine.

Consider poutine your Canadian canvas. No matter what you do, make extra because your besties won’t be able to get enough! Bon appétit!

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