First of all, I’ve found that books with titles like French Women Don’t Get Fat, well, unfortunately they’re true. There should also be books titled French Men Don’t Get Fat though I haven’t seen any on the book shelves yet.
I’m in Quebec on a family vacation and this place is full of skinny French Canadians out dining in restaurants where every menu item seems to be served in a creamy white veloute sauce, with mounds of butter or a rich wine and beef gravy/ Accompaniments include dense, textured and very yummy breads along with desserts made with chocolate and whipped cream or the what seems to be the national dessert here – sugar pie.
I’ll have to look for my copy of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” which was written by Mireille Guiliano and was a huge best seller to understand again how women on a high caloric diet can be so slim. I thought it was about small portions, but the portions here in Quebec City and Montreal are not small. Often our family of four orders two entrees and it’s enough for all of us.
And to make it even more galling (is that why the French are referred to as Gauls?) is that another seemingly national dish in the province of Quebec is poutine (pronounced pooh teen), crisp hot French fries covered with gravy and topped with fresh cheese curds. The emphasis is on fresh as cheese curds here carry labels carrying the date that they were made. Even without the date, you can tell their freshness because the freshest cheese curds squeak when you bite down on them. I know that sounds a little strange and not very tasty–squeaky foods? But it’s true and they’re really tasty but even semi-fresh cheese curds are good.
Poutine has become so popular that it’s on the menu at some of the McDonalds and KFCs in Quebec, there is a chain of eateries called Montreal Poutine and is also on the menu at high end restaurants. We stopped at Montreal Poutine in the Vieux Montreal, the wonderful historic district of the city near the Saint Laurence River to check out their poutine selections.
At Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec City which is housed in a building in Vieux Quebec, the city’s historic area, that was built in 1675 making it the oldest building in the city, we saw a bottle of wine listed at $12,000 (and no we didn’t order it) and poutine. Besides that, poutine has morphed and restaurants like Montreal Poutine now offer the dish topped with marinara sauce (an Italian take on a Canadian dish) and barbecue sauce – maybe a Texas take.
But one of the most interesting poutines I saw when in Quebec was Michigan poutine. Now for some reason, many restaurants in Quebec advertise Michigan hot dogs, much in the same way we talk about Chicago hot dogs. And Michigan poutine is French fries, gravy and sliced up hot dogs. I did not try that.
It is said that more Canadians have eaten poutine than have seen a moose (and there are signs all along the highways warning of crossing moose) or been in a canoe – two things I associate with Canada way before fries with cheese and gravy. At almost 1000 calories a serving, why aren’t the French Canadians fat? I don’t have an answer to that but I can tell you that poutine and French fries in general here in Quebec are very, very good. They’re crisp, very hot, not that greasy and are often served, when not topped with gravy and cheese curds, with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. And, while standing in the train station, my daughter spied a French fry making vending machine the size of a soda pop machine that promised freshly cooked French fries in two minutes. I wish we had tried it.
1 quart stock: chicken or veal
2 ounces flour
2 ounces butter or oil French fries
Fresh cheese curds
Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan.
For the veloute sauce, bring the stock to a boil in a sauce pan then combine the fat and flour, cook over high heat, stirring until you have a pale roux (2-3 minutes).
Whip the roux into the stock. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, skimming the surface every 5-10 minutes until it is reduced by half. Strain the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.
Place with cheese curds over hot, crisp French fries. Top with sauce.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef stock
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Idaho white potatoes, peeled and cut
1/2 pound fresh cheese curd
In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the butter and flour. Stir until incorporated. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes for a dark roux. Stir in the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Peel the potatoes and cut fries, 4 inches by 1/2-inch. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and blanch for 4 minutes. Remove, drain and cool completely. Fry the potatoes until golden brown.
Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, mound the fries into the individual (16-ounce) disposable cups. Spoon the gravy over the fries and crumble the cheese. Serve immediately.
From www.foodnetwork.com 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Because much of the cuisine in Quebec is French based, often food was either wrapped or topped with puff pastry. We sampled chicken and beef in puff pastry and seafood chowders loaded with local fresh lobster, scallops and salmon topped with puff pastry. One of the waitresses at a little bistro gave me this simple recipe.
Chicken in Puff Pastry
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves about four ounces each
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounce package cream cheese with chives
4 puff pastry sheets
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and place in hot oil; cook for 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove skillet from heat.
Roll out pastry sheets and cut so they are big enough to fit around a chicken breast. Spread two ounces of cream cheese on one chicken breast, place in the center of a pastry sheet; fold the pastry around the chicken, and pinch the pastry edges together very tightly to seal. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Beat egg with a little water and brush on top. Place the pastry-wrapped chicken breasts on a greased baking sheet.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.
If wanted, make the Veloute sauce (recipe above in poutine recipe) and serve with chicken.
Sidebar: Poutine Variations
Poutine Itallienne: Uses marinara sauce instead of the Velouté.
Poutine Bourguignon: Add ground beef and fried onions to the Velouté sauce.
Poutine BBQ: Heated BBQ sauce is poured on.
Poutine Mole: Cover with black mole sauce.
Disco Fries: Chicken-gravy and shredded cheddar on top a plate of fries.
Sidebar: French Women Don’t Get Fat
In her book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” author Mireille Guiliano combines common sense ideas in showing how you can enjoy great food and not become obese. You can now find recipes and information on her Website www.frenchwomendontgetfat.com. Here’s a recipe from her site.
Chicken with Mustard Sauce
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each), trimmed of all surrounding fat
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon corn, canola or virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion (4 ounces), peeled and chopped (1 cup)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cups water
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the chicken for 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Mix in the onions and continue cooking the mixture for 1 minute.
Sprinkle the flour on the chicken pieces, then turn them over in the skillet so they are coated with flour on both sides. Cook for 1 minute to lightly brown the flour. Add the water and stir well to loosen any solidified juices in the bottom of the skillet.
Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and boil gently for 2 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a serving platter and keep it warm in a 180° oven while you finish the mustard sauce.
Bring the mixture in the skillet to a boil and add the Dijon mustard and dry mustard, mixing them in well with a whisk. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet and heat gently (just under a boil, so the sauce doesn’t separate) for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through.
Arrange the chicken and sauce on a platter. Sprinkle the parsley on top.
Mireille also has what she calls a Miracle Leek Soup to get you started on the road to French slimness. Watch the video here.
1/2 pound fresh cheese curd