(This is the first one I've had that's on the list.)
Polenta is boiled corn meal mush. Sounds appetizing, huh? Well it is good stuff. In my opinion, it has more flavor than grits and is more versatile. It also has hundreds of different variations. I tend to prefer mine savory and a touch salty, but some people like maple syrup on theirs.
Growing up my mom referred to it as peasant food and wouldn't make it. (She didn't like grits either). When I got out on my own I finally tried it and discovered that I really enjoyed it, ensuring it a place as a staple in my pantry.
My favorite way to make it is to boil it then chill it. When you boil the corn meal, it develops a smooth and creamy texture. This is due to the gelatinization of the starch in the corn. This gelling also allows you to mold the polenta into a log. Once I chill the log I like to slice it and fry it in a little butter and garlic.
When I have described polenta to friends I remark that it is sort of like scrapple or livermush, just without the unknown pig parts. This description doesn't do it justice, but it at least can give you a reference point.(2)
In doing research for this blog I ran across a couple of different recipes. The first hails from the city of São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. This town is noted for its restaurants specializing in frango com polenta (fried chicken with fried polenta).
- 3.5 lb whole chicken, cut into serving pieces
- 1 tsp. canola oil, or other neutral vegetable oil
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 japapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 3 cups water
- 1/4 cup chopped green onion, green parts only
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal (polenta)
- In large heavy-duty pan (I always recommend cast iron), heat the oil then fry the chicken pieces until nicely browned on all sides. Fry in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Use additional oil if required to avoid sticking.
- Return all the chicken to the pan, then add the salt, garlic and turmeric, mixing well to cover all the chicken with the seasonings. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken to a large serving platter, cover with half of the cooking liquid, sprinkle with the green onion and cilantro, and keep warm.
- Return the remaining half of the cooking liquid to the heat, and when simmering add the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the cornmeal begins to thicken enough to retain its shape on a spoon. If the polenta becomes to thick, add hot water to thin it out. The consistency should be like oatmeal.
- Place the polenta in a bowl, and serve it and the chicken immediately.
Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.
The second recipe I found involves lots of cheese and sausage (two of my favorite things!). It also introduced me to a great website (and now I need to learn Italian).(3)
- 1 pound Italian Sausage
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 cups water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces Fontina cheese
- 8 ounces Goronzola cheese
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat.(4)
- Add the butter, and stir until melted. Cut cheese in chunks and mix with cooked polenta.
- Cut sausage into pieces about 1 to 2 inches long. Brown in olive oil over medium heat. Add red wine to pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Pour the polenta into serving dish, make a hole in the center and pour in the sausages with all the cooking liquid.