Homesickness for my native Canada always hits me the hardest during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Typically, I can dial it back by checking the Toronto weather forecast, but that doesn't stop the food cravings. Visions of honey dip Timbits, Voortman Gingerbread Kids, and heaping plates of poutine dance through my head nightly. So when I discovered that poutine is now available at Trader Joe's, I made scoring a bag my top priority.
The poutine ($3.99) consists of a bag of frozen, straight-cut french fries, packed with a baggie of frozen cheddar cheese curds and a baggie of frozen "beef sauce", the main ingredients in which are water, cornstarch, beef fat, beef, and yeast extract. There's also small amounts of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and tomato paste for flavor.
Preparation is pretty simple: bake the fries in the oven, thaw the sauce and curds in simmering water, then put it all together on a plate. The final step (putting the assembled plate back into the oven for a few minutes) is essential. It warms the sauce and curds up a few important degrees—don't worry, the cheese won't melt.
So, how does it taste? Pretty delicious! The fries baked up beautifully, and while the sauce was slightly gelatinous, the balance between its muted beefiness and the extra boost of savory flavors from the onion and garlic powder made it tasty enough to satisfy my craving. Best of all: despite being thawed from frozen, the cheddar cheese curds had a mild tang and actually squeaked! This is the hallmark of quality poutine, and where most imitators fall short.
You could achieve much tastier results by making your own gravy from scratch, but even if you go that route, it's still worthwhile to buy the kit, especially if you live in a part of the country where squeaky curds are impossible to find. Four bucks for a bag of frozen fries and a generous handful of curds that squeak is still a solid deal in my book.
Trader Joe's poutine isn't on the level of the top poutineries in Montreal, but as an introduction to the dish, or a means to satisfy a craving (when the real thing isn't in reach), it's awesome. I'll be back to buy more, in bulk.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax