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Feb 23, 2013 12:17 PM

Polenta - what did I do wrong?

Well I finally got around to making polenta, to serve with pan roasted lamb chops.

I ended up with a gluey, gritty dish of glop.

I had to use canned chicken broth since I didn't have any homemade, used 50/50 with water. So some of the flavor issue is the broth, but flavor isn't the worse problem. It's the glue!!

Can anyone tell me what I did wrong?

Thanks, hounds!

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  1. How much liquid? How much corn meal? What kind of corn meal? How did you cook them?

    1. one cup polenta, course ground, to about four cups liquid. brought liquid to boil, whisked in the polenta, reduced heat, whisked often, about 40-45 minutes. finished with butter & parm reg. flavor pretty good, texture blech.

      5 Replies
      1. re: nojunk

        I've checked a number of recipes online, and quantities and time seem OK. Could the corn have been old?

        1. re: nojunk

          Four to one would be pretty standard for grits and polenta

          1. re: scubadoo97

            There's no harm in adding more liquid as it cooks. The constant hard stirring that SWISSAIRE talks about implies the final product is quite stiff - stiff enough to form a mound when poured out on to a polenta board.


            1. re: paulj


              Note the well developed muscles in the photo.

              The first time I had this as a child, it fell out of the copper pan like a batch of heavy, constipated cement, Suddenly the magic of that evening crashed. As cold and hungry as I was, it tasted like cement too. Extremely hard to swallow, and in those years, in our family, you ate what you were served.

              I went to bed that night thinking up some very creative and evil murder plots involving certain unammed relatives.

              However, sooner or later everyone will make a batch of Polenta like that. But if one is feeding others, such as children, I would not make a habit of it. It becomes highly dangerous when thrown.

              We cook ours today as soft and creamy, and above all tasty, It will harden as it cools, to the point you can do all kinds of dishes with it. Mound it, let it cool, thin slice it, and try it in a lasagna.

              Like rice, Polenta left on cooking tools, pots, pans, and plates will harden into something akin to volcanic Tufa stone, which is also common to Italy. Leaving it on for a few hours further will then result in something similar to an abrasive Travetrtina, so I would suggest that you soak your Polenta cooking tools immediately before you serve and eat.

          2. re: nojunk

            For "creamy" polenta - as presented in the NYT recipe they recommend 5 cups of water to one cup of corn meal and adding extra water as needed during the process. Not sure if that would have fixed the problem, but an idea.

          3. I've made microwave polenta in the past. It works real well with very little stirring, maybe 5 or 10 seconds, total.

            Microwave Polenta from Cooks Illustrated - Jan 1998

            Makes 3-1/2 cups

            **** Paraphrased recipe ****

            1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
            3-1/2 cups water
            1 teaspoon table salt


            Use a 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup.
            Mix the cornmeal, water and salt well in measuring cup. Cover with plastic wrap.

            Microwave cornmeal, water and salt, covered with plastic wrap, at 100% power for 6 minutes.

            Uncover and stir well. Continue microwaving at 100% power for 5 - 6 minutes longer, until polenta is creamy and cooked.

            1. Where else have you had polenta/corn mush/grits? What consistency were you expecting?

              I'm not sure you did anything wrong. It could be that your expectations just don't match with reality.

              The grittiness means that you did not cook it long enough. The coarser the grind the longer the cooking. Also if the cornmeal is stone ground, it will never become as smooth as one made with degerminated cornmeal. Stone ground includes bits of the hull that never soften.

              Depending on the liquid ratio, polenta can be creamy, even soupy, or a stiff pudding that can be sliced and fried. Or it can be something in between. Sounds like yours is somewhere in between, such that it reminds you more of glop or glue.

              5 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                And, of course, if the corn isn't fresh, it will take even longer to cook.

                1. re: sr44

                  Fresh? Like harvested last fall? I've never seen a harvest date.

                  I haven't noticed any difference in cooking qualities between when a I first buy a batch, and when I finish it. Generally I figure on cooking my cornmeal twice the time on indicated on box or bag. Obviously this doesn't apply to stuff that I buy in bulk.

                  I will add, though, that degerminated has a better shelf life. Stone ground has the germ which can turn rancid.

                  ATK claims that a pinch of baking soda reduces the need for stirring, and may even reduce cooking time. I'm not entirely sold on that, but it's worth trying.

                  1. re: paulj

                    I haven't seen a date either, but if you bought it a year ago, chances are it will take longer to cook.

                    Phooey on ATK.

                    1. re: sr44

                      Now now...CK may be watching... :-)

              2. There is no quick way to authentic Polenta, as the flavour comes out from slow cooking and constant stirring.

                Yes, you can use broth, cream or milk, and add mushrooms, other vegetables, or even a little meat. But constant slow cooking and steady low heat is the key to bring out the blended consistentcy and taste.

                Some considerations:

                1. Meal mix: Polenta can be fine, coarse, or a mix. We purchase ours just across the frontier in Italy usually coarse-fine mix. You can tell by the scattering of dark grains in the mix. And we have seen this blend available in North America.

                Polenta is not limited to cornmeal, as there are some rustic varietals such as Chestnut, etc. that are highly valued.

                2. How or what are you preparing your Polenta for ? As a base for meat or stew on top, one of the typical Sunday Supper meals ? To frry or bake ? To eat and enjoy alone ?

                Depending on which of the above is your choice, your Polenta will need more or less liquid, seasoning, or cooking time. If it is a quick dish you want, try one of the inexpensive instant Polenta / Palenta boxes avaialble from Italian or Croation specialty markets.

                3. How are your arms ? Don't laugh too hard when you read this, but if you are making this authentic-style and by hand, you slow cook your Polenta in a copper-pot ( Paiolo ) over a low fire, while constantly sitrring with a wood stick or spatula.

                After an hour of this you will see and feel it in your wrists, biceps and triceps. No, you won't be able to wrestle Alligators just yet, but there will be need for the gym either !

                We make ours in an oiled stainless steel pot, adding a little cream or milk, and sometimes garlic. When it is cooked ( usually 30-45 minutes ) we pour it out onto a large platter, and let it cool. It can be sliced ,or just served with a cake server, or cut and served using a Tortenmesser.

                We usually serve it as a base for steamed fish, vegetables, or meat stew.

                If Caroline 1 is hopefully onboard or sees this post, she can suggest a few helpful tips. She also has a household electric Polenta mixer, which a quite common in Italy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: SWISSAIRE

                  Until I made this I would ave agreed with you. But this oven-baked is, IMO, just as good.