Failing at Kitchen: Polenta!

I see you, tubes of polenta.  Winking at me at the Trader Joe’s.  Beckoning me at World Market.  Looking so fly in the “gourmet” section of the ol’ supermarket.  I see you, yet I’ve never attempted to work with you.  Me?  I figured if I opened you, you’d ‘splode, and then I’d have to spend several hours cleaning up after your Dead Alive cosplay.

But then I researched.  Apparently there are two types/styles of polenta: the creamy kind that looks like grits, and the sturdy planks…that look like firm grits.  A friend said “polenta is a fancy Italian word for grits”, and she’s not wrong.  Same stuff, different day.  Okay, polenta typically uses fancy-schmancy corn meal especially ground for the purpose.  Grits uses corn meal.  Then I saw this article at Serious Eats, which said that regular ol’ corn meal is just fine for polenta, and it’s all about the liquid/meal ratio.  So I jumped in.  And polenta happened!

Here’s my step-by-step (cribbed from Daniel Gritzer over at Serious Eats):

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1) Put your water and polenta into a pot. Put pot on stovetop. Turn on stovetop. Whisk polenta and water together. Amounts? 5 parts liquid (I used water) to one part corn meal.
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2) Keep whisking ’til it starts to bubble. Then turn down the heat, give it one super-good whisking, and then you’re good for checking it every few minutes or so.
3) Keep stirring and checking the polenta-to-be. See it start to thicken? Groovy. Now add a few nobs of butter (or two tablespoons per 1 cup o' meal, as I did.) The glossy is thanks to the butter. Delicious, delicious butter.
3) Keep stirring and checking the polenta-to-be. See it start to thicken? Groovy. Now add a few nobs of butter (or two tablespoons per 1 cup o’ meal, as I did.) The glossy is thanks to the butter. Delicious, delicious butter. Or margatine. Do you.
4) When it starts to pull away from the sides -- and has a consistency that is not too runny, not too gloppy -- you're done! BTW, I never encountered a lump during this test batch. Either I whisked 'em out, or I whisked enough during the process that they never appeared. Score!
4) When it starts to pull away from the sides — and has a consistency that is not too runny, not too gloppy — you’re done! BTW, I never encountered a lump during this test batch. Either I whisked ’em out, or I whisked enough during the process that they never appeared. Score!

I love cheese, so I put some shredded cheddar on top. Reduced fat cheddar, because that’s just me. The polenta was light and fluffy, totally worth the hour it took to whisk my way to creaminess. (Note: the Serious Eats piece says that you can soak your meal overnight, and that’ll cut your cooking time in half.  I may try that next time.)

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BTW, if you want to add a touch of cream/half & half/almond milk to your polenta, go for it! It’ll make the end result that much creamier.

The only problem with my polenta? It’s so creamy that it won’t stiffen up. So the plans I made for grilling/frying the leftover polenta are not to be. No problem; microwaving the leftover squares — I poured the polenta I didn’t immediately devour into a jelly roll pan and let it set, then cut them into wobbly squares a few hours later — produces the same creaminess I had before.

Now let’s see if I can duplicate it… Which reminds me, I made a pretty darn good pork, carrot & broccoli stir-fry a few nights ago. But as I made it immediately after hiking, I scarfed it down before I could think about taking pics of the process. If I can duplicate it, I’ll post later this week. Emphasis on if.

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