It must be Australia Day: not-quite-poutine meets vegemite

australian-day-poutine-06

Update (26 Jan): added link to this month’s “Cheese please!” challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. Check out the post about tasting Colin, the home-made cheddar.

I’ve resurfaced! Mid-January was a time of mysterious illnesses (caught from work colleagues who caught it from exotic holiday locations), early bedtimes and absence from the blogosphere. Thankfully the exotic bugs have departed, and I’ve picked up the camera again.

Just in time for Australia Day. And what could be more Australian than vegemite? (If you like the sound of golden toasted cheddar on polenta chips with just enough vegemite to add a salty kick, read on, this is a post for you.)

Vegemite

The black, unctuous, salty, umami-laden yeast extract spread that seems to be a practical joke for everyone else, and a Masterchef ingredient for us.

The taste of the stuff seeps into the memories of old time Aussie kids, as does the ditty that can rouse a hipster crowd to a sing-along:

“We’re happy little Vegemites / As bright as bright can be. /
We all enjoy our vegemite, / for breakfast lunch and tea. […]”

Even growing up in a migrant family, I ended up eating and loving the stuff. When we were travelling through Copacabana, Bolivia, a couple of years ago, we met another group of Australians. They had packed a family-sized tube of vegemite and were having it on toast at the breakfast table. And suddenly I had such a fierce hankering for vegemite, that I asked them if I could have some.

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‘Poutine’

In October 2013, vegemite turned 90. With that in mind, I thought about making something involving vegemite for Australia Day. Somehow we ended up with a riff on poutine – a poutine in concept rather than execution.

The idea developed like this, in a Smeagol-vs-Gollum style interior dialogue:

think vegemite –>
mmm cheese –>
ok think vegemite –>
cheesy polenta chips –>
ok, let’s think vegemite –>
Cheesybite! (vegemite and cheese spread) –>
eww Cheesybite –>
I’ve got it, polenta chips with vegemite and cheese –>
erm, you serious? –>
with vegemite gravy and cheese! –>
with polenta chips? –>
sure, it’ll be like poutine, except with polenta chips, and vegemite gravy –>
*looks dubious, but goes with the flow*

australian-day-poutine-04

(Poutine: chips with gravy and fresh cheddar curds, has been described as heart attack on a plate, but looks strangely alluring for someone recovering from exotic bugs.)

Actually, it was pretty good, once I got over the lack of authenticity. I used a non-deep fried take on poutine from Canadian blog Seasons and Suppers as a starting point. The result was a crispy-crunchy-cheesy-saucy plateful. Crispy baked polenta chips, vegemite-enriched gravy, Australian cheddar, extra smears of vegemite, a handful of parsley and a pinch of coriander.

The photos show the first batch of ‘poutine’, which adds cheddar after the chips have been tossed in gravy (as the recipe instructed). For the second batch of ‘poutine’, I topped polenta chips with grated cheddar and vegemite for the last 10 minutes of baking, so that the cheese melts onto the polenta chips, mingles with streaks of vegemite, and forms golden, crispy-salty clusters. That was our preferred version, and it’s the version given below.

If you’re wondering, yes, I was humming the happy little vegemite song while making dinner.

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‘Poutine’ meets polenta chips and vegemite

(a Saucy Gander travesty riff on a Canadian classic)

Ingredients

Polenta chips

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for greasing

Optional: a big pinch of ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp turmeric (for colour, and because turmeric is apparently really good for you)

Vegemite gravy

3 tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter
2 tbsp (30 ml) plain / AP flour
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or mashed in a mortar and pestle
450 ml (about 15 oz) beef stock
1-2 tbsp vegemite, to taste
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
Black pepper

Add-ons

1/2-2/3 cup grated Australian cheddar (I used one that was relatively soft, not hard or sharp)
1/2-2/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped coriander / cilantro
1-2 tbsp vegemite

Method

1. For polenta chips: using a large saucepan, bring water to a gentle boil. Mix polenta with the salt, turmeric and pepper (if using). Pour in the polenta in a stream, whisk or stir constantly (a measuring jug is handy for this step). On medium-low heat, continue cooking and stirring until the polenta becomes thickened. Depending on the type of polenta you use, this can a few minutes or 20-30 minutes. Pour in about 1/8 cup olive oil.

2. Once the mixture becomes thick but pourable, pour onto a lightly greased large baking tray, or a couple of large wooden chopping boards. Leave to cool and harden for a bit, then spread out the mixture using your hands (or spoon, or rolling pin). Cool completely, this can take an hour or more in the fridge.

3. Once polenta is cooled and firm, cut into strips. Leave to one side until the gravy is nearly done and you’re ready to bake the polenta chips.

4. For the gravy: In a saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour. Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns golden brown and has a slightly nutty smell (5-8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds.

5. Add beef stock and 1 tbsp of vegemite. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring regularly so there are no lumps. Lower heat, stir water and cornstarch together and add to the gravy, simmer until the gravy thickens (3 to 5 minutes). Add pepper and more vegemite to taste. Keep the gravy warm.

6. To bake chips and assemble: mix together the grated cheddar with half of the chopped parsley and all of the chopped coriander. Preheat oven to 390F / 200C. Place polenta strips onto lined baking tray, brush with the rest of olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp at the edges. Remove from the oven, quickly smear on the vegemite (I used a small silicon spatula to do this) and sprinkle over the cheddar and parsley mixture. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the cheddar has melted and slightly toasted.

7. Remove polenta chips from the oven. Pile onto plates or a wooden board. Spoon over gravy and cover liberally with the rest of the chopped parsley.

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43 thoughts on “It must be Australia Day: not-quite-poutine meets vegemite

  1. Coffee and Crumpets 26 January 2014 at 2:48 am Reply

    Ok, so even after growing up in England with Marmite and Vegemite easily available, I’ve never tried it. I can buy it now, but still haven’t! Of course, your poutine looks so good that I may just have to try it now! I was secretly hoping somebody from amongst my blog friends would inspire me to get out and get a jar 🙂 Thanks! Oh, and I hope you’re feeling better. I was just thinking last night how things have been a bit quiet over at SG. Thank goodness you’re well. xx

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 3:14 am Reply

      Thanks Nazneen! I am better and keen to get back to baking and cooking properly again.
      Vegemite is an acquired taste, but it works well balanced out by butter, or in this case rich gravy and cheese. I’ve also seen it mixed into caramel or ganache in tiny doses – !! We crazy Aussies 😀

  2. {Main St. Cuisine} 26 January 2014 at 4:16 am Reply

    First, I’m glad to see you back and also glad you are feeling better (hope your colleagues are as well). Second, you photos are stunning. What a beautiful post! I’ve only heard of vegemite, but never actually tasted (enjoyed?) it, Your finished dish looks rather good, as I love polenta and grew up on it at home (Italian household). The textures and grated cheese make this look just delicious.

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Thank you, we are all better, luckily the exotic bug didn’t stay around for too long in the warm weather we are having.
      The vegemite is quite subtle in this dish, it adds a bit of extra caramelised flavour to the gravy, and a salty kick to the toasted cheese. And the stars of the dish is still the polenta (which we also love), and the cheese and gravy combo.
      My next challenge is trying out some vegemite dessert recipes, fingers crossed! 🙂

  3. lapetitecasserole 26 January 2014 at 7:27 am Reply

    I’m glad to know that you feel better! just few words to say that your recipe today makes me smile a lot…
    Polenta: I’m italian, so it represents something I can’t live without (see all my recipes about);
    Poutine: I currently live in Montreal, where there are I don’t know how many restaurants specialized in poutine.
    I feel exactly like your recipe: Italian ingredient in a Canadian recipe!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:06 pm Reply

      Having read all about poutine, I’d love to try a ‘real’ one, definitely need a trip to Canada.
      And I’m so glad this recipe made you smile, I thought about whether to post it, but decided to do it for fun. We had a good laugh about the mish-mash of cultures while tucking into the Australia-Italian-Canadian poutine! 🙂

  4. polianthus 26 January 2014 at 7:50 am Reply

    fun text, interesting recipe, grew up with marmite but never really grew to love the stuff, that said if someone offered me a plate of your “poutine” i’d be very open to giving it a try!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:08 pm Reply

      Thanks – it was done for a bit of fun, and the fact that it was tasty was a bonus. It’s probably a gentle introduction to vegemite, as the taste is quite subtle and complements the gravy, cheese and polenta. Thanks for visiting!

  5. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 26 January 2014 at 8:31 am Reply

    What an interesting idea combining two far apart cuisines into one! I love poutine so I’d happily give this a go. Plus Vegemite is great in sauces and gravies so why not? Happy Australia Day!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:09 pm Reply

      Happy Australia Day to you too! Now that I’d made fake poutine, I’d love to have the real one. Need to plan a trip to Canada – inspired by your travel posts!

  6. ladyredspecs 26 January 2014 at 8:52 am Reply

    LOL! my Mum always put vegemite into pan gravy to replace lack of meat juice caramelisation, so gravy with vegemite overtones is not so crazy to me. I’m an Aussie, I love the stuff!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:12 pm Reply

      Aussies love our vegemite don’t we? In the Bolivia story, when I asked the Aussie family for some of their vegemite, that started a whole breakfast table conversation about our travel plans, and also how we seem to be almost the only country to like vegemite!
      It’s really good in gravy! I’ve also seen other recipes using vegemite, so will give those a try too.

  7. Gather and Graze 26 January 2014 at 10:20 am Reply

    The world needs more recipes like this that incorporate the fabulousness of vegemite, without being as in your face (for some) as slathering it onto bread or toast! It’s not such a bad ingredient if used properly and a little sparingly! Or is that just the musings of a born and bred Aussie vegemite kid? 🙂 Happy Australia Day SG!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:16 pm Reply

      I think this would be a pretty good (ie, gentle) introduction to vegemite, as the vegemite enhances other strong flavours rather than overpowering everything. Unlike those American TV chefs eating a huge spoonful of the stuff and almost crying from the shock! (though that’s pretty funny too…)
      My next challenge to myself is vegemite in caramels and ganaches, Masterchef-style. If it worked for their Heston Blumenthal challenge……..?
      Happy Australia Day!

  8. Experienced Tutors 26 January 2014 at 11:05 am Reply

    Good to have you back. Loved the post and as usual fab photos.

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:17 pm Reply

      Thanks, it’s good to be back, still catching up on missed posts from other bloggers. Chinese New Year is next, eeek!

  9. Jody and Ken 26 January 2014 at 11:34 am Reply

    Marmite, I know, but vegemite–terra incognita. I like salty rich ingredients, so maybe… Polenta and cheese sounds great. I’ll have to see if they even sell it in this hemisphere. Nice. (Good Smeagle, good Smeagle…) Ken

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:21 pm Reply

      Vegemite is reasonably similar to Marmite – or just think of it as a brash third cousin of miso?? I’m trying to sell the umami aspect here. 🙂
      Polenta and cheese is pretty good, even without vegemite…

  10. Johnny Hepburn 26 January 2014 at 11:42 am Reply

    Initially I thought you were talking about the illegal 100% proof alcohol (poteen) made from potatoes that you don’t get from anyone’s father in Ireland. I’ve certainly never tasted the stuff, nor attained it in any fashion. You never know who’s reading this! Anyway, loving the idea of the polenta chips. Still haven’t used mine for anything other than baking. Which seems a shame.
    Shame, too, that you were ill all this time. Seems even worse when it’s summer. Like me last year.

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:25 pm Reply

      I should ask Irish friends about poteen! It sounds lethal, one can probably drink Guiness like water if one can handle that stuff. If anyone is reading, note we advocate responsible drinking here at SG HQ.

      Thankfully I seem to have got over that exotic bug, was so tired there was no question of blogging. But it would be un-Australian to be unable to go to a BBQ and (responsibly) drink beer on Australia Day, so you see I had to get better!

  11. yummychunklet 26 January 2014 at 12:34 pm Reply

    Creative twist!

  12. Baking With Gab 26 January 2014 at 1:23 pm Reply

    I love that you used vegemite in the gravy! No matter how much I try to convince English friends of vegemite’s merits, they will not agree! It’s something that you have to be brought up on, I think. This recipe sounds perfect, ten points for ingenuity!

    • saucygander 26 January 2014 at 5:27 pm Reply

      I agree that it’s probably something you need to grow up with, so vegemite comes with associations with the family kitchen, buttery toast, soldiers, and other good things. I was surprised at how well the vegemite worked in this dish, and will be trying it in other recipes in the future. 😀

  13. Amira 26 January 2014 at 5:48 pm Reply

    Never heard of Vegemite or polenta!!!! seems that I am missing a lot here. I’ll try to search more in this to enhance my knowledge in Australian cuisine :). Thanks and happy Australia Day.

    • saucygander 28 January 2014 at 9:35 pm Reply

      Thank you! Polenta comes from Italy but we have well and truly embraced it in Australia! 😀

  14. jaywadams 26 January 2014 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Um, YUM! This looks delicious! I hoard my jars of Vegemite (my presssscious) over here and stock up large when I come back – for this dish I could happily sacrifice some of my stash though!

  15. FromageHomage 27 January 2014 at 6:50 am Reply

    Wow! Have never had vegemite but if it’s anything like Marmite/Bovril, I’ll take some convincing 😉 I do love polenta chips though so I would certainly give this a try. Looks good! Thanks for sharing it with this month’s Cheese, Please! And Happy Australia Day 🙂

  16. […] Baked Blue Cheese Individual Mac and Cheese Pot Pies British Cheese Fondue Night Pumpkin and Roquefort Risotto Broccoli, Courgette and Stilton Soup Sausage and Courgette Carbonara Comfort Cheese Toastie Parmesan Butter Tin Biscuits Spaghetti Carbonara Cheese Fondue Cheese and Bacon Muffins Chicory and Ham Gratin Peanut, Apple and Cheese Cookies Emmental Soda Bread Easy Peasy Meatballs Lamb and Potato Bake Cornish Yarg and Cider Fondue Roast Cauliflower Cheese Soup Montgomery’s Cheddar Cheese Risotto Gruyere Popovers Tortilla Bake Brie En Croute Spinach and Cottage Cheese Cannelloni Polenta Fries with Chilli BBQ Ranch Dressing Spanish-inspired Mac and Cheese Vegan Cheesy Chickpea Dip with Coconut Bacon Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Roule Not Quite Poutine Meets Vegemite […]

  17. Matt 27 January 2014 at 10:16 am Reply

    Glad to hear you are feeling better! Love this post, such an interesting combination of flavours! and it photographed really well 🙂

    • saucygander 28 January 2014 at 9:23 pm Reply

      Cheers! How can you go wrong with Vegemite? (I’m sure lots of people would disagree, but!)

  18. Liz 28 January 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply

    those pictures sell it! (along with your charming prose, of course 🙂 ) So sorry you weren’t feeling well. Derned bugs. Glad you’re back at it.

    • saucygander 28 January 2014 at 9:34 pm Reply

      Thanks! I should have learned to embed that Vegemite song too, to complete the, um, cultural experience!

  19. lemongrovecakediaries 29 January 2014 at 7:55 pm Reply

    Vegemite – sign me up…yum! Sadly I still can’t get Mr LG to eat it… no taste that man 🙂 Love the recipe!

    • saucygander 1 February 2014 at 9:22 am Reply

      What if you said it’s Australian miso? 😀

  20. […] celebrate Australia Day, Saucy Gander shared with us the cross-cultural wonder that is Not Quite Poutine Meets Vegemite, where ‘Italian’ polenta chips take on a ‘Canadian’ poutine made […]

  21. janet @ the taste space 30 January 2014 at 1:25 am Reply

    Nice! I have never had vegemite in gravy but it sounds like a delicious way to try poutine. 🙂

    • saucygander 1 February 2014 at 9:36 am Reply

      Thank you! I’m hoping to have the real poutine some time, as cheddar curds sound really good! In the meantime, this is a fun alternative. 😀

  22. ediblethings 30 January 2014 at 7:42 am Reply

    Actually, the thing that has always put me off giving poutine a try is the fact that I think cheese curds and gravy are a combination too far. However, this looks like a really accessible way to dip my toe in the water. And, I even think I know of a place in Holland I can get me some Vegemite

    • saucygander 1 February 2014 at 2:52 pm Reply

      Vegemite in Holland? Wow! Let me know if you do give this lighter poutine recipe a try! 😀

  23. laurasmess 31 January 2014 at 4:12 pm Reply

    Oh my gosh. This has got to be the best Australia day recipe, ever. EVER. I love cheese and vegemite together. Pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, methinks!

    • saucygander 1 February 2014 at 3:33 pm Reply

      Yep, Vegemite and cheddar was a good combination for Australia Day. Add chips and I could see it being a good footy game food too!

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