CI creamy polenta
This month's Cook's Illustrated has an article about making creamy polenta. The "secret" is to use a pinch of baking soda - it's added along with the salt to boiling water before adding the polenta in a steady stream while whisking. Ratio of water: polenta is 5:1 for creamy polenta.
They say to whisk steadily for one minute - should be lump free. Lower heat to have the polenta just barely steaming - put the pan cover on. In 5 minutes, come back to whisk some more and scrape down the sides and corners of your pot. Continue with the lid on at a very low flame. Let it cook for about 25 minutes - no need to stir. The polenta should not be bubbling away - if it is then use a flame diffuser or a foil ring to put some more distance between the bottom of the pot and the flame. A tin lid from a no. 10 can might even do the trick?
Taste after 25 minutes - grains should be tender ...... remove from heat and stir in butter/olive oil and grated parmesan cheese plus S &P. Let sit for 5 minutes, covered. It will be creamy and it won't have required a lot of work. How cool is that?
Good eye! The CI recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of butter and about 2 Cups of grated parmesan cheese.-4oz. I did not add nearly that much butter & cheese. I used a good splash of garlic infused olive oil and probably 1/4 Cup of grated parmesan - maybe even less. I like the flavor of corn so I wouldn't want to totally cover that up with cheese. And it's already creamy before you add the butter/cheese. I was having the polenta along with some homemade italian sausage so I saw it as a side dish and seasoned it accordingly. If the polenta is standing on its own then you might add more butter/cheese?
What does the baking soda do?
As you've learned, it really isn't true that polenta requires much stirring. The most lumpy time for it is the first few minutes after you add it to the water. Then a flame-tamer and a stir every ten minutes or so will do it. I use pretty coarse polenta, a 4:1 ratio, I add the salt in the beginning and I cook it about 45 minutes total. I prefer not to add butter or cheese when I'll be serving it under a braise or some juicy meat, which we do all the time.