Polenta is one of those flexible and versatile dishes that can be prepared in any number of ways. For example, it can be made with water, milk, chicken stock, or vegetable broth depending on family traditions and personal preferences. Plus, it can be further customized by adding grated Parmesan cheese, butter, and/or any combination of fresh herbs and spices.
Some traditionalists argue that water is the only acceptable choice for making polenta because it yields the lightest, most distinctively corn flavor. On the other hand, some argue that chicken or vegetable stock infuses the polenta with more flavor, while others prefer the richer and creamier taste associated with using milk or half & half.
This recipe serves as a blank canvas to build upon. From there, it can be customized to suit your own tastes. As is, this version is delicious as a hot and filling side dish or it can be chilled and then grilled or fried for a tasty treat later.
Classic Polenta Recipe: Creamy, Grilled, or Fried
- 5 cup Water
- 1 cup Medium or coarse polenta or cornmeal
- Sea salt, to taste
- 2 tbsp Unsalted butter
Heat water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until almost boiling. Once water starts to bubble, whisk in cornmeal and continue stirring continually until it starts to thicken. Season with salt, to taste, and stir to combine.
Reduce heat to just below medium and continue cooking, stirring every 4-5 minutes, until the polenta pulls away from the side of the pan and the cornmeal becomes soft and tender, approximately 40-45 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in butter, if using. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Serve creamy polenta immediately as a side dish or top with your favorite savory main dish, such as Succulent Braised Pork Roast or this Tuscan Meat Ragu. (See Notes Below for Recipe)
To Fry Polenta:
Grease an 8” x 8” glass baking dish with olive oil (or spray with a non-stick cooking spray). Spread prepared creamy polenta into baking dish in an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until polenta is firm to the touch.
Remove from refrigerator and gently loosen around the edges of the baking dish with a butter knife. Place a paper towel over the top of the polenta and hold it in place with your hand. Gently turn the baking dish upside down while supporting the contents with your hand. Tap the bottom of baking dish until polenta is released.
Carefully transfer the solid sheet of polenta to a cutting board. Cut the polenta into quarters, then cut each quarter in half diagonally to create 8 wedges.
To fry, add a little olive oil to a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the polenta wedges and cook until golden brown on each side, approximately 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and serve immediately with your favorite toppings or marinara sauce to dip.
To Grill Polenta:
Repeat steps 1 – 3 above.
To grill, spray a grill pan or the grates of a gas grill with non-stick cooking spray. (Clean the gas grill grates with a stiff wire brush before spraying).
Cook until each wedge is golden brown and nice grill marks appear. Flip and repeat on other side. Remove grilled wedges from heat and serve immediately with your favorite toppings, in salads, or with a bowl of hot soup.
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