The Guilty Pleasure: Poutine Where To Get It: Trader Joe's, locations Valleywide Price: $3.99 What It Really Costs: Good news: Only 200 calories a serving. Bad news: One bag is almost six servings.
I love the frozen food section at Trader Joe's. There's almost always an entrée or two from there in my freezer for nights when I get home from work and the most mundane of cooking tasks seems insurmountable. The quality is generally higher than your average grocer's frozen food, with pronounceable ingredients and a wide variety of international fare.
On a recent visit to Trader Joe's, I was tickled to see that someone thought to add oh-so-trendy poutine to the frozen food roster.
I'm a poutine purist. There are some great versions at upscale gastropubs, but they usually get so loaded with other ingredients that they aren't poutine anymore. Give me something closer to the one I ate on a very regular basis when I worked at the ever-delicious Beaver Choice, thank you very much.
Thankfully, the TJ's folks kept it straightforward, with just fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds, the way poutine should be. Assembly is simple enough. The fries are loose in the bag, and the gravy and cheese curds are kept in their own separate bags. Bake the fries for a little over 20 minutes, and thaw the gravy and cheese in a pan of gently simmering water. Once the fries and gravy are hot and the cheese isn't frozen stiff anymore, pile everything on a plate, run it under the broiler for a moment to get the gravy piping hot, and dig in.
I do see a potential for a snafu with the cheese curds. If you stray from the kitchen for too long, there's a chance you'll come back to a little bag full of melted cheese. Other than that, it's a piece of cake to throw together.
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It's a good, solid, straightforward poutine with everything the way it should be. The gravy imparted a nice flavor to the fries (although I thought it was better with a few grinds of black pepper), and the previously frozen cheese curds had a nice bounce with just a little squeak to them.
The fries could be a little crisper, but I'll happily take less crisp baked fries over those horrible coated fries. And once they're doused in gravy, any chance of crispness goes out the window. I was happy that they didn't skimp on the gravy or cheese. At first it looked like there wasn't much cheese, but once the curds were on top of the fries, the amount was just right. It may not have quite the polish of professionally prepared poutine, but it's perfectly passable in a pinch. (Holy alliteration, Batman!) Which is to say, it's a hell of a lot better than most frozen food out there, just like most every other Trader Joe's frozen dish.
My only real dilemma with this: Do I break it out as a shareable appetizer when friends come over, or make it a real guilty pleasure and scarf down the whole bag while nobody's looking?