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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.


                2. thanks for all the feedback everyone. I'm just going to try again with fresh product & home made stock. someone asked me about expectations and I don't expect silky, in fact i prefer texture, but mine was really gluey. i'll just try again & see what happens.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: nojunk

                    Polenta can be made with plain water. In fact, I don't ever recall using stock. I may add some milk or cream, but too much seems to mask other flavors. I don't see how the stock, canned or home made, would affect texture.

                    1. Polenta is simple to cook but it does require time and attention. Polenta and water, polenta and stock - no matter, it all works.

                      Whisking the corn meal (a slow stream) into a boiling liquid is only the beginning. Reducing heat to a slow simmer and stirring frequently is important. Adding more liquid as you stir is a matter of feel but you don't want the mix to get stiff, quite the contrary. Keep stirring at frequent intervals and keep the mix loose.

                      After an hour or so, the polenta should have absorbed a lot of liquid, eliminated any pebbly or grainy texture and shifted to a creamy texture. Keep the mix thin. That's when I take it off the modest heat, add the butter, cheese and salt, stir, taste and season once again.

                      I take a similar approach with my grits.

                      1. I just had dinner with a friend who was making polenta for a layered dish to serve tomorrow. It was taking more like an hour and a half to cook the polenta, not 45 minutes. Hang in there.

                        1. Russ Parsons of the LA Times just published a recipe where the polenta is baked. Almost no stirring and a toasty, happy result. I'm going to try it but in the meantime, here is the recipe.


                          4 Replies
                          1. re: happybaker

                            i learned this method years ago from paula wolfert. it's foolproof and effortless, allowing time to prep and cook everything else. it never fails regardless of liquid:corn ratios.

                            haven't cooked polenta on the stovetop in well over a decade.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              Agree completely! I realize that it's not the Italian grandmother method, but it works like a charm - polenta turns out beautifully and ridiculously easy to do.

                              1. re: Nyleve

                                only because many homes didn't have actual ovens! villages had a communal oven that baked bread for everybody around.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Most still do.

                                  You take your bread or meals you want cooked to the village oven on Sunday, just before church. While you are attending service, the oven is atended to by the local assigned baker.

                                  When you leave your bread ( with your family marking ) has been baked and is ready.

                                  Today with moden markets, the communal village ovens are reserved for special occasions, but they still work and are still available.

                                  Polenta of course is made at home, and isn many cases is served as a bread substitute.

                          2. How fine or coarse was the polenta? Were you using a product labelled "polenta" or were you just using cornmeal? And did you cook it slowly over low heat, stirring more or less constantly but slowly?

                            If it's gritty it wasn't cooked enough; if it was gluey it might have been too fine or stirred too vigorously, although that's not characteristic of most corn I've cooked.

                            To be honest here, the best polenta of my experience has been American-sourced stone-ground corn grits - not hominy, just corn. Red Mule is my favorite, but I also got a great deal on a ten-pound bag through Amazon; I now have several one-liter containers of coarse-ground white corn in my fridge, each of which yields about three good batches of delicious polenta. It's also one heck of a lot cheaper than the bags of polenta from my fancy-food stores.

                            1. I make polenta regularly and though I have tried the coarse grind and fine/coarse grind (which I found had a really weird texture) my favorite is the fine corn meal in the blue box. I've tried cooking it quickly and once tried cooking it slowly and for a long time, but I always come back to half milk/half water ratio of 4 liquid to 1 cornmeal. Heat up the liquid in a deepish pan, whisk in the cornmeal in a steady stream and cook on low stirring most of the time for 10 minutes max. Add butter and cheese if you so desire along with s&p. It should be loose enough to spoon onto the plate where it should immediately form a firm puddle. I like it best with tomato sauce, fried sausage and rabi with garlic.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: escondido123

                                Adding cornmeal (and cream of wheat) in a steady stream to boiling water is what I was taught as a kid. But these days I just mix the meal with the cold liquid, and stir well as it comes to a boil. And since I am using an induction burner that doesn't take very long.

                                My latest 'mush' dish was spoon bread - make a corn mush (polenta) with milk and butter. Let it cool a bit and add some egg yolks, and then beaten egg whites. Bake till puffed and set.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  I do the same with grits all the time

                              2. Seems like the simplest recipes can be the most complex in order to achieve sublime results and with polenta it is all about the quality of the corn meal, the balance with flavored broth/water and the technique employed.

                                I grew up with a grandmother making polenta at least once a week at home and within a commercial kitchen; always in sufficient quantity to have leftovers sliced and broiled or grilled the next day.

                                Her secrets were old school but added to the flavor from the start. Her technique was to put us to work during the long drizzle of the grains into the pot and stirring near constantly for an hour until the corn meal had cooked fully as witnessed by its tearing away from the sides of the pot.

                                Pot was a heavy cast aluminum, wide pot, much wider proportion than a stock pot which encouraged evaporation and the metal was at least 1/8" thick. The batton was long for leverage, perhaps 20" long with a flat bottom paddle shape.

                                The liquid was (half)non-chlorinated well water and (half) a rich home made chicken stock which she had reduced with several cut up leftover corn cobs for an hour before starting the polenta. In winter, she would open a can of creamed corn and mix the can liquid into the stock so the resulting polenta always started off with a flavor boost.

                                We would start by wiping the inside of the pot with olive oil all the way up to the top of the sides. Water and stock added and brought to a rolling boil followed by a 'handfull' of salt. Drizzling in 2 cups of corn meal to the 8 or 9 cups of liquid would take at least 10 minutes. Then a knob of butter would be tossed in and the stock turned down to a simmer.

                                The stirring was as near continuous as possible, easy at first and requiring much more effort as the grain swelled. In the end, polenta making was an hour long battle of endurance that challenged patience and strength

                                At the end, off heat, a mix of finely grated parmesean and pecorino was added along with fresh ground black pepper and another knob of butter. Occasionally some finely minced lemon zest and parsley. Turned out into a buttered bowl to shape, inverted onto a platter, sliced in wedges and covered with stewed chicken, braised oxtails, roast game birds or bolognese with sausages and mushrooms all made for fabulous dinners both at home and at the restaurant.

                                2 Replies
                                  1. re: ThanksVille

                                    It is already 8 PM here.

                                    I now know what recipe my wife and I will be trying tonight.

                                    Excellent post ThanksVille !

                                  2. i make mine in the oven. i think it's a paula wolfert recipe. i use a 5 to 1 ratio. it comes out perfectly.

                                    it does take time. and i've used all sorts of water/broth combos. i think you only stir once. then at the end you can leave it or add more flavors...herbs or cheese. whatever.

                                    1. Gluey and gritty sounds like not enough liquid and not enough time.

                                      I've tried a number of methods: stovetop, baked, microwave, and slow cooker. If I have the time, I am most happy with the slow cooker. I first read about it on the Anson Mills website, unfortunately they seem to have modified their website and I couldn't find the original post. I did find the instructions on the Epicurious site,

                                      Here's another article that I found helpful as well,

                                      I have a couple different size and age slow cookers. The newest one is a 2 quart that runs quite a bit hotter, so when using it, I had it on high for the first 45 min or so, and then switched to low for the next 2.5 hours or so, and then I switched it to warm until we were through with dinner.

                                      I used local yellow stoneground grits/polenta, and a ratio of 1:5 water. Some recipes say start with cold water; others say boiling. I used boiling to start last time. And about a tsp of sea salt.

                                      Shortly before I switched it to warm, I added in the rest of the ingredients to make a cheese and jalapeƱo version.

                                      I really like this method. For me, it's about 3.5 hours start to finish, but only a short amount of active involvement, checking it and stirring about every 20 to 30 to 40 minutes, whenever I think of it.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: souvenir

                                        I second the slow cooker recommendation. We tend to start it in the morning, cold water and polenta, 5:1 ratio. Stir it every 15 minutes or so, once it starts to thicken, reduce heat to low, cook all day (no stirring necessary). Stir in some butter if we are feeling decadent before serving, but not really necessary. Creamy for dinner, but leftovers firm up in a loaf pan and can be sliced for casseroles or griddling.

                                      2. anyone ever try it in the pressure cooker? since, i'm wildly obsessed with mine.....

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: eLizard

                                          I tried it once, using the pot within a pot method. I started it in the conventional way until thickened (about 5 minutes), then transferred to an insert. But it's been some time, and I don't recall any special results. This was for a coarse grind (Bobs grits/polenta) that otherwise requires a couple of hours.

                                          Oh, and I've also tried Indian Pudding in the PC. Again, start on stove top, and finish in the PC instead of the oven. But Indian pudding is best with the browning and crust that you only get with a long low oven bake.

                                        2. an update....

                                          the sliced & fried leftovers on Sunday morning were YUMMY! just grilled them in a little olive oil & the cheese browned to a crusty exterior, the inside was creamy (finally!) & it was great. conclusion...maybe I'm just not a creamy polenta person.

                                          but i'll try again. probably with just water/mlk next time, fresh corn, 5:1 corn/liquid ratio, more time.

                                          for those who asked, I bought the corn at my local veggie market. it's a local product, stone ground (so hulls were part of the texture issue), course. it's sold from the fridge & I store refrigetated at home.

                                          thanks, all!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: nojunk

                                            Thanks for a timely thread, nojunk. Just before you posted, I'd made polenta with locally stone ground corn (that I'd kept in the freezer), and was dismayed at the grittiness after an hour of stirring and cooking. It was the hulls, I suspect. They seemed to soften noticeably between the end of cooking and eventual serving (cooled, cut in pieces, dusted with cheese, and broiled -- served with roasted eggplant-tomato sauce).

                                          2. Morning !

                                            Just ran across this, which if one is going to make it in an authentic fashion, illustrates it correctly.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                              Meaning that serving it in some other fashion that piling it on a wooden board is "inauthentic"?

                                              1. re: ellabee

                                                I first read about serving polenta on a board in an Italian (English translation) cookbook for Venice and NE.

                                                "After about three-quarets of an hour - when it begins to detach itself from the sides of the pan and it becomes increasingly difficult to stirr - the polenta is cooked
                                                Tip itout onto a wooden chopping-board and cover with a clean tea-cloth. Bring it to the table on the board, along with the wire traditionally used to slice it."

                                                However the book also has recipes where the polenta is baked, or formed using a ring mould, served in 'little heaps', cut shapes, etc.

                                                1. re: ellabee

                                                  In the Italian and Ticiniesi traditional manner, if you like.