Put on your checkered, ear-flap caps readers, because today we’re going full Canadian with Trader Joe’s Poutine.
Poutine – what is poutine? What is this strange word, this strange brown bag smiling broadly at us from the depth of the freezer section? What do french fries, cheese curds and gravy have to do with each other? To put it simply, poutine is French Canadian nachos – only instead of tortilla chips you have fries, and instead of melted cheese you have gravy, and instead of jalapenos you have melted cheese. Yes, I know that’s confusing, but there’s no avoiding that. Only a Canadian can truly understand poutine – just as only Aussies can truly understand Vegemite, only Scots can truly understand Irn-Bru and only Americans can truly understand root beer. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to explain.
Basically, what you get with Trader Joe’s Poutine is a big bag of frozen french fries, a packet of beef gravy and a packet of cheese curds. The idea is, you cook the fries in your oven, while warming the gravy and curds on the stove top. Once everything’s ready, you top the fries with the curds, drizzle the gravy over the whole lot, then eat it with a fork/your fingers. It’s a sloppy heap of messy, salty savory junk food perfect for anytime you feel like abandoning your goals and dreams in favor of immediate mouth-stuffing gratification – again, not unlike nachos.
I’d never had poutine before, which presented me with a unique challenge. How could I fairly review Trader Joe’s Poutine, and thus avoid incurring Cannuck ire, without anything to compare it against? Where was my control group? A Google search revealed the depth of my problem. Although poutine is wildly popular in the barren polar regions of North America, it doesn’t have much of a presence anywhere so far south in America as Los Angeles, CA.
I was able to find a number of upscale restaurants offering their own nouveau fusion versions of poutine designed to downplay the more uniquely Canadian side of poutine (read: giant salty cheese curds) in favor of a more marketable, bastardized dish, but little in the way of real, authentic poutine. For a moment I thought I’d found a lucky break in the form of the Gravy Train Poutinerie – a poutine slinging mobile food truck promising real, home-style poutine – but an examination of their Twitter account revealed that they moved operations to the greener pastures of Salt Lake City, UT in October 2013. Things were getting depressing.
Finally, I found success at Little Fork, Hollywood – a cool little box of a restaurant dedicated to serving Canadian food up right. Over a couple cheap Molsens I enjoyed my first real poutine – smoked meat gravy, gooey cheese curds and all. Folks, it was a delicious heap of a hot mess.
So it was with considerable anticipation that I cooked up Trader Joe’s Poutine on my stove. After following the direction and digging in – I’m sorry to report that I didn’t like it very much at all.
The gravy is fine, and the cheese curds, though saltier than I like, are as thick and squeaky as you could ask for. The problem, unfortunately and unavoidably, is in the fries. It’s next to impossible to cook fries in an oven and have them be anywhere as near as good as fries out of a deep fryer. Countless brands have tried to do it, but none, not ever Trader Joe’s, has succeeded. Without the deep fryer, fries aren’t fries – they’re just dull potato planks.
There are some other minor difficulties with Trader Joe’s Poutine – I found it hard to heat up the cheese curds without them melting together into a big blob, even by heating them in a water bath, but these are only petty concerns. The heart of a good poutine is in the good fries – take those away and your might as well just have your cheese and gravy on a baked potato. Honestly, you’d be much better off buying some good fries from a takeout joint and adding the curds and gravy to them than you would be buying this frozen bag of flat potato slices. Thank you, Trader Joe’s, for bringing us the delicacy of rural Quebec, but these fries simply won’t do.
Would I Recommend It: Not with these fries I wouldn’t.
Would I Buy It Again: No – I’ll just wait for the Poutinere to wheel it’s way back here.
Final Synopsis: The great Quebecoise cuisine brought low by inadequate fries.