Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Does it work: Polenta

I have been experimenting a lot lately with different foods. I've been trying to implement different flavors and textures into dinner. It had been going pretty well, but there were a few bumps as well. One thing that I see everywhere on every cooking show is polenta.

Now, you can buy boxes of polenta mix or even pre-made polenta, but I couldn't seem to find these ingredients anywhere in my city (okay, I couldn't find them at either grocery store I frequent). So, like any other technologically savvy person, I hit up the Internet and did a little research. Come to find out, all polenta really is is cooked cornmeal. It can be eaten warm and creamy or cooled and hardened. I choose the second option as I wanted to try out three methods: plain, baked, and fried.

The Procedure:

Basic Cheesy Polenta
1c cornmeal (degerminated is easiest to find and has a smoother texture)
1c milk
1/3c Parmesan cheese
1/3c shredded cheese (I used Monterrey jack, but anything that melts well will do)
1t salt (more or less depending on the saltiness of your cheese)
3c boiling water

Mix the first five ingredients together while the water boils. Add the mixture to the water. Let it start to boil and turn it down to a simmer. Stir constantly for about 20 minutes. The mixture gets pretty thick, so think of it as an arm workout. Pour out into a greased pan (whatever size/thickness you'd like). Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least two hours. Remove from pan and cut into desired shapes.

The Variations

This served as a benchmark test. Taste the polenta while it's warm and creamy and then taste it again after it has set. That way you'll understand the difference once you cook it.

I took half the polenta, cut it into strips, the size of French fries, and fried them in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes on each side until they're crispy.

I baked the same size strips on a greased cookie sheet for about 15-20 minutes on 375 degrees and turned them halfway. Basically until they're crispy, the same concept as the fried.

The Results:

Overall, the baked and fried tasted pretty much the same. The only difference was that the fried seemed to absorb more of the oil in the fried batch. After they cooled they tasted exactly the same. I think I prefer baking them. Seems healthier and less messy. I also plan on putting more cheese on the top before they go in the oven.

The Grade:

Overall, the polenta tasted great in every form. To me it almost tastes like potatoes/fries. Yum!

Potential problems:

I found a recipe for microwave polenta and tried that first. The polenta sat overnight and did no tset up at all. I just don't think the correct factors are there. I ended up taking that failed batch and cooking it on the stove until it got thicker. The second time around I made it on the stove from the start and it worked much better.

Another issue is that once the polenta is cooked, it cools really quickly and can be difficult to smooth over once it has gone into the cooling pan. It also helps to grease a piece of foil and put that down in the pan, that way nothing sticks.