Polenta, which can regionally be known as corn pudding, grits, porridge, or corn mush, can be served up savory or sweet at any time of the day. Start with this basic recipe and turn it into something your family will love.
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Polenta, in it’s purest form, is basically cornmeal that has been cooked in water or stock. Traditional polenta is made using a method that requires you to stir for 45 minutes or more with a wooden stick. Traditional grits on the other hand must come from corn that was stone ground.
Truthfully, this recipe is not traditional. It is however, much easier to make, takes less time and attention, and I have found that it works with multiple types of cornmeal.
Depending on the time of day you can serve polenta as sweet, savory or a combination of both. Try it for breakfast with crumbled bacon, maple syrup, and a poached egg. On the other hand you could add some dried herbs and serve it with stews or saucy meats in place of mashed potatoes or noodles. You could also turn it into a dessert. The options are endless once you get started.
This recipe is for a very basic polenta. It includes 5 ingredients (one of them optional) and takes about 25 minutes total to make. I recommend using chicken stock for savory applications, as it adds so much rich flavor to the polenta that less seasoning is required in the end. I also use less salt and about 1/3 of the amount of butter when I use stock. If you like your polenta strictly for sweet purposes, I would suggest you trade the stock for water and omit the garlic.
To start, measure your ingredients and have everything at hand. Next, bring the chicken stock or water to a boil over medium-high heat. The cornmeal will quadruple in size as it absorbs the water so ensure your pot is large enough. I used a 2 quart lidded saucepan for the quantities below. Opt for non-stick if you have the option, as it will cut your stirring time from every 3 – 5 minutes to every 5 – 7 minutes. Two of my favorites are this one and this one.
Once the water is boiling, grab your whisk and slowly add the cornmeal while whisking constantly. This is the secret to avoiding most of your lumps. If done right, the cornmeal will be incorporated into the stock or water as soon as it hits the pan. Once the cornmeal is added, follow immediately with the garlic powder if using it. Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes until the cornmeal visibly thickens.
You probably noticed that the cornmeal doesn’t look like a full half cup, which is due to settling. Cornmeal should be measured by first stirring then scooping or pouring, the excess should then be scraped off the top using a straight edge in the same manner that you would measure flour. After picking and moving the cornmeal a few times to get the shot right it settled into the measuring cup. This is one of the many reasons countries outside of the United States use weight instead of volume measures for cooking and baking.
Once the polenta thickens, cover it with the lid to trap extra moisture and set the timer for 20 minutes. Yes, you read that right, I consistently get great results only cooking it for 20 minutes. I have been guilty of leaving it over a low burner longer to keep it warm while I finish the rest of the meal, but if you are ready for it at 20 minutes it’s good to eat.
During this 20 minute countdown, if you are using a non-stick pan stir it every 5 – 7 minutes. If you are using stainless steel you will want to increase the stirring to every 3 – 5 minutes. I find that stainless steel can get a dry crust on the bottom that will either burn or turn to lumps if stirred less often.
Once the timer goes off, stir in the cream and butter. Careful as the polenta will be hot.
From here you can serve it up plain, as a side dish or base for things like beef stew, meaty tomato sauce, or the balsamic honey dijon pork I’ll be bringing you on Friday. You can also dust it with some dried herbs like I did here, or stir in some grated cheese or chunks of fruits or vegetables. The choice is yours.
Bonus: For a light, summery dessert chill the polenta until it solidifies then slice it and pan fry it in some butter. Top it off with some sliced fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, and a dollop of whipped cream. Yum!
Have you ever tried polenta? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!
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Easy Basic Polenta
Easy Basic Polenta
- 2 cups chicken stock or water see note 1
- 1 tsp garlic powder see note 1
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1-3 TBSP butter see note 2
- 1 TBSP heavy cream
- Using a non-stick, 2 quart, lidded saucepan bring chicken stock or water to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Slowly pour in the cornmeal while whisking constantly followed immediately by the garlic powder if using it.
- Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes until the cornmeal visibly thickens.
- Cover the pan with the lid and set the timer for 20 minutes.
- Stir every 5 - 7 minutes to ensure it doesn't stick. (If you are using stainless steel, stir every 3 - 5 minutes.)
- After 20 minutes, mix in the cream and butter.
- Serve immediately as a hot side dish or get creative with stir-ins of your choice like cheese, bacon, herbs, fruits or vegetables.
2: If using chicken stock, only 1 tablespoon of butter should be needed. If using water, increase butter by an additional 1 - 2 TBSP or as needed by taste.