How to Cook Polenta
A glorious bubbling pot of polenta is the most convenient chameleon of accompaniments. It can be anything from luxuriously creamy to crisp in texture and you can keep your polenta plain or add aromatic flavours. Try rosemary polenta; black pepper polenta, parmesan polenta, porcini polenta, sun-dried tomato polenta, olive polenta or my favourite garlic polenta. You can also cook polenta with chicken, beef, vegetable or porcini stock (soaking water) instead of water. I sometimes want to taste something new, at other times I’m deeply satisfied with the simplest, most familiar version and polenta happily adapts to suit my mood. I also enjoy the colourful ray of sunshine; bright yellow polenta brings to my meals. Here are the ways I use polenta.
By Merchant Gourmet Chef, Alex Mackay
To make soft polenta, mix the ground polenta with stock or water, bring it to the boil, simmer and stir for 1 minute. You can, but don’t have to, enrichen polenta with butter or extra virgin olive oil then season to taste. Soft polenta oozes into, exchanges flavour with and soaks up roast gravy, tomato sauce, mushroom ragout, bolognaise sauce, onion gravy, fruity olive oil or almost any other sauce you fancy. My family and I now eat soft polenta more often than we do mashed potatoes and the time we save with 1 minute polenta can result in enough time to sit and eat together before dashing off to football cricket or choir. I’m always looking for ways to save time without compromising on flavour because for us, eating together is a great part of eating well.
Although the most well-known polenta preparations are either hard or soft, there is a lovely
in-between stage too, where you scoop spoonfuls of polenta that has been simmered and stirred for 3-4 minutes into a pan with olive oil for a few minutes each side to make dumplings with a crisp exterior and melting interior. You can serve these with tomato passata, roast gravy, pesto, olive oil or simply butter and cheese. You can also spoon polenta dumplings into a stew as it simmers which is doubly lovely because they take on extra flavour from the cooking liquor.
To make it hard, you simmer and stir polenta for 5 minutes, season it, then spread the polenta into an oiled tray. Put this in the fridge for at least an hour to set hard before you cut it into whatever shape you want. Polenta chips to serve with fish, steak, or to dip in garlic mayonnaise, potato sized chunks to roast alongside chicken or vegetables, cubes to use for croutons for soups or salads, circles to become pizza or tart bases, great for those on gluten free diets.
Merchant Gourmet 1 Minute Polenta Q & A
Q. What is Merchant Gourmet polenta and is it Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free?
A. Our polenta is 100% ground maize (corn) so it’s perfect for vegans, vegetarians and those on gluten free diets. If you want a richer vegan polenta, add olive oil in place of butter at the end.
Q. Is Merchant Gourmet polenta an ‘instant polenta?
A. Merchant Gourmet Polenta cooks in 1 minute from the time it comes to the boil for soft polenta. This is as instant as it’s possible for polenta to be.
Q. Can I use polenta in place of breadcrumbs?
A. You can, you get a good crisp coating and kids love it. I have used it on top of fish filets, fish cakes, fried chicken, haloumi, pork steaks and baked aubergine. I have a friend who puts it on top of her vegan lasagne and pasta bakes. A few spoonfuls tossed with potatoes before you roast them will give you a crunchy exterior. Anything that you can crisp up with breadcrumbs you can crisp up with polenta.
Q. Is Polenta ok for young children?
A. Yes, my boys, aged 11 and 14 at the time of writing, have eaten polenta all their lives. When they were both babies, we set polenta in ice cube trays and it was was invaluable for us. We’d mix two cubes of polenta with one or two cubes sized spoonfuls of vegetable and one of meat or fish. One of the great advantages of plain polenta is that makes a fine accompaniment for everything, so whatever we were serving ourselves, we could add a cube or two and have a lovely meal for them.