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Québec cuisine

Québec cuisine, classic or reinvented

Québec enjoys a rich culinary tradition, steeped in the joie de vivre of its people. In fact, the province is famous for its regional specialties and its prolific array of local products. Try the classics of Québec cuisine, and have fun comparing some of them to the versions reinvented by our creative chefs.

Appetizers and side dishes

Many of them originating from the colonial era, these dishes always elicit feelings of comfort. Here are some classics:  

Soupe aux pois, Montérégie © J.-F. Bergeron
Fèves au lard, Chaudière-Appalaches © J. Frenette

Pea soup

Created by the earliest settlers of New France to help get them through the long winter, pea soup has endured as a mainstay of Québec cuisine. Some would go as far as to say that it should be our national dish. One thing’s for sure, you’ll find it on the menu of every sugar shack in the land!

Classic recipe

Made with whole yellow peas and lard, and sometimes embellished with onions, carrots, celery and herbes salées (salted herbs).

Revisited recipe

While the classic recipe is never puréed, its variations are often put through the blender. Pancetta can be a substitute for the lard and is sprinkled on top as a garnish, along with a drizzle of maple syrup to cap it off.

Baked beans

A legacy of the trappers, coureurs des bois or woodsmen, pioneers and farmers, baked beans (commonly called “bines” in French, from the English word beans, but pronounced “bins”) are a breakfast favourite and also served in sugar shacks.

Classic recipe

Black beans and chunks of lard cooked up with molasses or maple syrup. Simple, yet deeply flavourful, owing to being slow-cooked in the oven.

Revisited recipe

The Abitibi-Témiscamingue region introduced a baked beans recipe with partridge confit, mixed with duck fat, molasses, tomatoes, white wine and allspice.

Cretons

Cretons is a pork spread containing onions and spice, usually served on toast as part of breakfast, and sometimes topped with mustard. Variations using veal or chicken are known as “cretonnades.”

Québec’s culinary repertoire includes many other classic appetizers or side dishes, such as:

Pickled beets
Homemade ketchup (red or green)
Veal or pork tongue
Oreilles de crisse (grilled or fried pork rind)
Cranberry sauce
Barley soup

Plus a number of regional specialties:

Gourgane bean soup (Saguenay−Lac-Saint-Jean, Charlevoix)
Partridge soup (Mauricie)
Head cheese (Gaspésie) (cold cut made with flesh from the head of a pig)

Mains

It’s really tough to name just one dish that typifies Québec cuisine! Here are some classics:  

© Citronlimette.com
Poutine, Montréal © Tourisme Montréal, Thinkstock

Pâté chinois

While the exact origins of this dish remain unknown, dating back somewhere around the late 19th century, it first gained popularity in Québec home-cooking in the 1930s. By 2007, it was officially honoured as a “national food of Québec” by the Montréal daily Le Devoir.

Classic recipe

Ground beef topped with a layer of corn kernels, followed by a layer of mashed potatoes. The corn, which can be fresh or canned, in niblets or creamed, is the ingredient that distinguishes this dish from its cousin, shepherd’s pie. It is generally eaten with ketchup on the side. A famous satirical comedy series called La Petite Vie (“The Simple Life”) popularized the expression “ground beef, corn and potatoes” for a person who is slightly dim-witted.

Revisited recipe

This Québec classic has been reinvented in many different ways, including a vegetarian version, in which the meat is substituted with squash, lentils or tofu. These comfort dishes, which tend to stretch the food dollar, have also evolved gourmet versions, using such refined ingredients as pulled pork or duck, braised rabbit, pig’s feet, foie gras and veal sweetbread. Even more impressive is chef Martin Faucher’s version, which combines duck confit, caramelized corn, red wine and Le 1608 cheese from the Charlevoix region. Or that of chef Laurent Godbout, who uses escargots, polenta and celery root to replace the classic beef, corn and potato combo. And, of course, some like to drizzle their pâté chinois with, you guessed it… maple syrup!

Poutine

The origin of poutine, which is said to have first appeared in Drummondville, Québec, is somewhat disputed, however it has known indisputable popularity ever since its birth in the 1950s. So much so, that we even have a festival dedicated to poutine and are constantly inventing new, more ostentatious and original incarnations every day.

Classic recipe

Fries, topped with cheese curds and gravy.

Revisited recipe

Chicken, ground meat, smoked meat, bacon, green peas and bacon have long been adopted into basic ingredients of this dish, but the list of newcomer ingredients is constantly growing: tempura flakes, pulled pork, caramelized onions, and more. You’ll also see poutine dressed up with lobster, escargots, filet mignon and as many varieties of sauces and cheese as you can imagine. Examples include veal stock reduction, or miso or bourbon sauce accompanied with marinated, flambé or truffle cheese.

Among the unique creations developed and refined by two big Québec chefs, Martin Picard and Danny St-Pierre, are foie gras poutine and inverted poutine. The latter consists of a potato croquette, or shell, with the cheese curds and gravy tucked inside.

Back to the classic poutine, it has finally made its way onto breakfast menus, accompanied by sunny-side up eggs, ham, sausage and baked beans.

Cipaille

Hearty pie consisting in several layers of pastry, meat and potato cubes. Its flavour comes from the seasonings and slow cooking process, as well as from the wild meats used such as hare, deer, moose and partridge, which nowadays tend to be replaced by beef, pork and veal. It is said that the name “cipaille” is derived from the word “six-pâtes” (six crusts), or perhaps from “sea-pie,” a dish from the Gaspésie region originally made with seafood.

Québec’s culinary repertoire includes many other classic dishes, such as:

Bouilli de légumes (beef cubes cooked in broth with mixed vegetables, including carrots and potatoes)
Maple ham
Meat loaf (a mix of ground beef, bread crumbs and egg baked in a loaf pan)
Pot-au-feu (slow-cooked beef stew)
Ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew)
Ragoût de pattes de cochon (pigs feet stew)
Pork roast
Tourtière (traditional Holiday meat pie)

Plus a number of regional specialties:

Gibelotte (Montérégie) (a hearty soup made with various vegetables, with or without fish)
Seafood pot pie (Îles-de-la-Madeleine) (a mix of seafood, bacon and potatoes covered in pastry)
Smoked meat sandwich (Montréal) (sliced smoked beef served between two slices of rye bread)
Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean (Saguenay−Lac-Saint-Jean) (a meat pie that is larger than the classic tourtière containing large cubes of meat and potatoes)

Desserts

Quebecers have a sweet tooth, a sense of tradition and active imaginations!

Poutine, Montréal © Tourisme Montréal, Thinkstock
© OTQ

Pouding chômeur (poor man’s pudding)

Born out of the Great Depression, owing to the simplicity, availability and affordability of its ingredients, pouding chômeur, has become an enduring classic Québec dish. It is served in many popular restaurants and sugar shacks, as well as homes throughout Québec.

Classic recipe

It starts with a vanilla cake batter, made with flour, butter and milk, over which is poured a water and brown sugar syrup, which settles at the bottom while cooking. This dessert is often served with vanilla ice cream—especially when hot from the oven—or with maple cream or syrup.

Revisited recipe

The brown sugar is frequently replaced with maple syrup, or the two are combined, for an extra sweet sauce. Another, chocolatey, variation incorporates grated apple or cocoa into the batter and syrup. But among the boldest departures, served at Tandem restaurant, garnishes the dessert with shavings of foie gras. For its part, Québec cheese promoter Our Cheeses recommends pouring dark rum and maple syrup over the batter and grating aged cheddar on top.

Date squares

Somewhere between dessert and healthy snack—thanks to its high-energy content—this classic treat is engrained in the DNA of every grandmother in Québec!

Classic recipe

Squares comprised of a layer of date purée nestled between two layers of crumble made with oatmeal or oat flakes and brown sugar.

Revisited recipe

Some adapted versions include additions of grated carrot, pineapple, pumpkin purée, eggplant purée or meringue, and even orange juice and coffee have found their way into the mix. Of course, leave it to Québec chefs to come up with some of the most adventurous renditions. For example, there’s one made with a Breton shortbread crust covered with a date cream, which is topped with a crunchy walnut tuile and served with a ginger mousse and red wine caramel coulis. Or the Japanese inspiration by chef David Biron, made with soy sauce, panko and sake flambé, crowned with a slice of pan-fried foie gras and blanketed in a soy milk emulsion.

Sugar pie

The Québec version of this classic, especially popular in sugar shacks and at Holiday time, combines butter or cream and sugar, which is sometimes replaced with maple syrup. Both methods produce a very smooth, very sweet mixture, which is often combined with berries or apples to create a sugar pie variant that is a little less sweet, but just as scrumptious.  

Québec’s culinary repertoire includes many other classic desserts, such as:

Old-time donuts (sweet pastry)
Potato candy (dessert combining potatoes, icing sugar and peanut butter)
Bûche de Noël (a log-shaped cake served at Holiday time)
Apple crisp
Galette à la mélasse (small molasses cake)
Galette de sarrasin (savoury pancake made with buckwheat flour)

Grands-pères au sirop (maple syrup dumplings)
Pets-de-sœur (“nuns’ farts”, i.e. pastry cakes rolled with brown sugar)
Bread pudding (pudding made with bread, spices and dried fruit)
Sucre à la crème (fudge squares made with cream and brown sugar, with or without nuts)
Tarte à la farlouche (pie made with molasses, brown sugar and raisins)

Plus a number of regional specialties:

Potato donuts (Lanaudière)
Fruit pie (Gaspésie)
Blueberry pie (Saguenay−Lac-Saint-Jean)