Tips for Better Polenta

I am obsessed with polenta and have learned a lot about making it since I originally shared our recipe and one of the meals I cook with it (polenta, chevre and roasted peppers).

Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time cooking it, discussing it with others and picking the heads of some of the best Chefs in the city who have all been glad to offer their opinions and techniques. I thought it was time to pay back their generosity with me and return the favour.

Tips for Better Polenta Polenta Cornmeal Cooking Recipes

Here’s our top tips:

  • Although any cornmeal will make fine polenta, if you can find exceptional cornmeal, you can make exceptional polenta (I am so thankful to Kawartha Ecological Growers who found an additional 3 kilograms (6 pounds) for us to get us through to next winter).
  • As is suggested in our comments of the original article, milk is not needed – but it really does add something extra to it.
  • Bringing the liquid to a boil before adding the cornmeal definitely produces better results.
  • Remove the pot from the heat when adding the cornmeal and reduce heat before returning it to the burner.  The slower the better.  I tend to lower the heat to the lowest setting and whisk every 5 minutes or so for the best results.
  • Let it cool naturally.  Putting it in the fridge or freezer to cool causes condensation.  I let it cool in the pot and whisk every few minutes.  I form it into a loaf once cooling is more than half done (when the polenta stops easily falling through the whisk, its time to form in a loaf).  This will also help prevent cracking and/or breaking of the loaf.
  • Make it the day before (or more).  Its far easier to slice and more likely to stay together when cooking if it is cold.  We’re experimenting with freezing slices.
  • I’ve moved away from trying to make ‘tubes of polenta and switched to loaves made in a gently buttered loaf pan.
  • Once polenta is poured into the loaf pan, I gently butter the back of a spoon and push down on the loaf to help ensure a ‘flat’ top as well as to coax air pockets out.
  • Replacing the water with stock was not a huge advantage and disguised much of the corn flavor.
  • Adding moderate amounts of dried goods will work – but will require more liquid as those rehydrate in the polenta.
  • Tomato paste adds a great hit of Umami (savoury flavor).

Any other tips out there?

Comments

  1. This is more a serving than a cooking technique, but I think it’s neat nonetheless.

    My Romanian grandmother used to make huge sheets of polenta (though it was “mamaliga” to her) for church dinners. As there is hardly a knife with a long-enough blade to slice through a quantity with so much square footage, she instead used a technique from the old country: She’d hold a long piece of thin thread taut and use an up-and-down motion to slice cleanly through the block to create squares of mamaliga for serving, often as a base for creamed chicken stew or as a side dish topped with butter and/or sour cream.

  2. I tap the loaf pan on the counter to settle out any bubbles and level the top.

    Using an herbal tea instead of using plain water or meat stock works well. Sage is especially good. Just fill a tea ball with the herb(s) of your choice and steep in the measured hot water for the amount of corn meal you’re cooking.

    I like to rehydrate dried stuff before adding it to the cooking polenta. Any water left over after rehydrating gets measured into the amount used for cooking the polenta.

    I love polenta! I’m going to try your fried tofu too. Do you ever play with tempeh?

  3. I’d only started making polenta recently (http://foodliteraturephilosophy.blogspot.com/2011/05/making-polenta.html) , and I like it a lot. I’ve only made it with vegetable stock so far, but I might give water or some kind of milk a try (Silk’s coconut milk might make a very nice polenta…) Thanks for the tips!

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