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Watson's South American spin on a Canadian classic


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'Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson' is a collaboration between IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Once a week, as part of an ongoing series, we'll be preparing one recipe from the book until we've made all of them. Wish us luck.

So far we've just been working from the front of Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, towards the back. But we're going to start jumping around a bit now. Partially for convenience sake (it's just easier to make all three poutine recipes in a row), but mostly because I want to avoid using my oven as much as possible. It's hot and humid in New York and I live in a small one bedroom apartment. Basically just looking at my oven makes the temperature rise about 20 degrees in here. So we're jumping a few recipes ahead to take on the Peruvian Potato Poutine, a South American twist on a Canadian classic. This is one of the recipes that Watson inspired the chefs from the Institute for Culinary Education to whip up at SXSW in 2014 at their cognitive computing food truck. So, you can sort of think of this as a Chef Watson 1.0 dish.

Gallery: Cooking with Watson: Peruvian Potato Poutine | 24 Photos


I'm not entirely clear why this is a Peruvian potato poutine. I'm pretty sure by definition poutine involves potatoes; specifically the french fried variety. But, I digress. So what does it mean to make a Poutine -- generally french fries, a brown gravy and cheese curds -- Peruvian? Well for one, it means integrating herbs and spices like thyme, cumin and clove. The other thing it means is swapping those pesky cheese curds for delicious, crumbly queso blanco.

The ingredients here are incredibly easy to find. Honestly, you should have any trouble finding any of this stuff in your local super market. The surprises here don't come from the specific flavors. And on paper they seem to make perfect sense: cumin, thyme, tomato, onion, potato, bacon... the one slightly odd addition is cauliflower, and even that doesn't exactly seem like it's out of left field. Like the plantain dessert, the surprise here is more in the texture than anything else and the way the individual elements play off each other. Watson's contribution is less the combination of flavors but more the presentation.


There are two techniques use here that, while hardly advanced, are a little tough to master, but should be in the arsenal of any serious home cook. First, is the ability to properly caramelize onions. I, for one, am quite terrible at it, as you can see in the photos. Onions are surprisingly high in sugar, and cooking out the extra moisture over low heat brings out their natural sweetness. But achieving that beautiful brown concentrated sweetness takes time and patience. If the heat is too high or you're not vigilant in your stirring, you'll burn the onions before the sugars have a chance to properly caramelize. The other technique is creating a roux. This, like caramelization, takes patience and constant attention. Basically a roux is flour cooked in a fat -- in this case bacon grease. What you're doing is coating the starch granules in fat to keep them from clumping, but achieving this requires constant stirring over low heat to keep the starch moving. Then, once you add the chicken stock, the starch absorbs liquid and thickens the gravy.


To make the poutine, you could certainly buy frozen french fries at the super market. But, if you're looking to take your dish to the next level you can make them yourself. To make the perfect home made fries, first, get yourself a mandoline. While you can certainly cut fries by hand, its faster and easier to do with the widest slicing insert. Then soak the potatoes for at least 30 minutes in cold water before frying. But don't just crank the heat and get the fries brown and crispy. You're going to actually cook the fries twice: first in oil at 300 degrees for roughly five minutes, just until soft. Move the partially cooked potatoes to a parchment lined sheet pan and put them in the freezer. Once frozen you can either put them in a bag for long term storage or immediately remove them for a final frying. Freezing creates ice crystals inside the fries that help create a soft and fluffy texture on the inside while maintaining a crispy exterior. The second fry should be at around 400 degrees and just until the fries are crispy and browned.


The final product: a pile of fries topped with a tomato-based gravy, dressed with queso blanco and roasted cauliflower was delicious. How delicious? Well, this photo was take about two minutes after the plate was passed around to my taste testers.


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