There are a lot of rules people say you need to follow to make polenta, like using a wooden spoon, stirring in only one direction, adding the polenta to boiling water, and stirring constantly. Forget those. What's really important is using the right ratio of liquid to cornmeal and cooking the polenta long enough for the cornmeal to properly hydrate and cook. This recipe allows you to choose whether to use water, stock, or milk as your liquid (though I'm partial to the light, clean flavor of a water-based polenta), and can either be served right away with braised meats or cheese like gorgonzola dolce, or chilled, cut into pieces, and seared, grilled, or fried.
Why It Works
- A ratio of 5 parts liquid to one part cornmeal by volume produces polenta that's fully hydrated and cooked through, without any little raw gritty bits.
- An optional pre-soaking helps hydrate the cornmeal and cuts down on actual cooking time.
- Yield:Serves 4 to 6 as a side
- Active time: 1 hour (or 35 minutes if using pre-soaking method)
- Total time:1 hour (or 1 hour plus overnight soak, if using the pre-soaking method)
- 5 cups water, milk, or stock (chicken or vegetable; see note above)
- 1 cup medium or coarse cornmeal/polenta (see note above)
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
If using the pre-soaking method, which requires advance planning but cuts cooking time roughly in half, combine water with cornmeal in a large mixing bowl and let stand, covered, at room temperature overnight. When ready to cook, scrape soaked cornmeal and water into a large saucier or saucepan and set over high heat. Skip to step 3.
If using the standard method, add water to a 3-quart saucier or saucepan and set over high heat. Sprinkle in cornmeal while whisking (water does not have to be boiling).
Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Let boil, stirring frequently, until polenta thickens enough that it starts to spit. Lower heat immediately to prevent spitting and continue to cook, stirring frequently with a spoon or silicone spatula and scraping bottom to prevent scorching, until polenta becomes thick and pulls away from side of saucepan, about 30 minutes for pre-soaked cornmeal and 50 minutes for dry cornmeal. Season with salt.
Stir in butter or olive oil using either a spoon, silicon spatula, or whisk. If polenta forms lumps, beat vigorously with a stiff whisk to remove. If polenta becomes too firm or begins to set, add a small amount of water, stock, or milk, and beat in with a whisk until fully incorporate and no lumps remain.
Serve right away with accompaniment of your choice, or scrape into a vessel and chill until set, then cut into pieces for grilling, searing, or frying.