Cornmeal and Polenta

Polenta is made from cornmeal, coarse or fine, and is cooked in stock or water.

Debates rage over whether polenta should have a thick or thin texture, but it’s really a question of what it is going to be used for. If it is to be sauced with a mushroom ragout, for example, it should be on the thick side. As a bed for grilled chicken or little game birds, it should be thinner.

Polenta can be kept in a double boiler for hours. If it thickens too much, add more stock or water. Leftovers can be sliced and grilled or fried.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts chicken stock or water
  • 2 cups coarse ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Method

Bring the stock or water to a rolling boil. Add the salt. Pour in the cornmeal very gradually in a steady stream while whisking. Passing it through a sieve works well. Continue to vigorously whisk the liquid and cornmeal together until all the cornmeal is incorporated and there are no lumps.

Then use a wooden spoon to stir constantly and scrape around the bottom corners of the pot where the polenta will try to stick and burn.

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring slowly and constantly, for 45 minutes. Taste for salt, stir in the butter, and hold in a double boiler until needed.

Holding Soft Cornmeal or Polenta

One can keep stirring in more liquid to keep the polenta soft, but there is another way, as I found out totally by mistake, when reheating leftover polenta.

Cook the polenta the day before, pour it into a bowl, and let it firm up. Brush the top of the polenta with melted butter or olive oil to prevent a skin from forming. An hour before using, break the polenta up and heat it with a cup of stock or water. Once smooth and held in a double boiler, it will never firm up again.

Grilled Polenta

Spread the just-cooked polenta out on a buttered and then chilled cookie sheet or sheet pan, brush with butter, cool, cut it in shapes, then grill it over charcoal very slowly for 30 minutes, basting it occasionally with herb oil.

The polenta becomes crusty on the outside and stays voluptuously soft on the inside, especially if you mix ½ cup blue cheese with the polenta before pouring it into the pan.

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