Can polenta be made in advance?
We're having friends over for dinner tonight and I'm making an Italian pot roast with polenta. I'd rather not be standing and stirring polenta while my friends are around and was wondering if I could make it a couple hours in advance but I'm not sure if it will set too much. I'm making it as a base to the roast and sauce (red wine/tomato/veg) so I don't necessarily want it too firm. If I do make it in advance do I just reheat it on the stove?
I have no specific experience, but I'm going to guess that purists will act shocked but that you really can make it a couple of hours ahead. I would either keep it warm so that reheating isn't necessary or reheat gently in a double boiler, and if you don't have one, rig something up. I would definitely not reheat directly on the heat.
If you still wind up with a rocklike mass, just slice it. Sliced and toasted, fried, or grilled polenta is completely legit -- not the best for the use you want to make of it, but in a pinch, spoon your sauce over the slices.
I don't really find that polenta takes much stirring so doing it at the end hasn't been a problem for me in the past. But if you really want to have it all done beforehand, what about making it and then keeping in a crockpot on warm? I'd include a little more liquid than normal as it will continue to absorb in the CP. Maybe plan to some butter and/or cheese at the end just before serving.
It has been a long time since I made polenta. However, I've made it in the microwave. It took only 12 minutes. The water to cornmeal ratio was 3 to 1, and the wattage of the good old Amana (it lasted 25 years) was 650 max.
The process used a ceramic vessel. The stuff nuked for 6 minutes, and then it was stirred for consistency. It was nuked for another 6 minutes, then served.
If you wish a less thick polenta, increase the water to 4 cups.
Polenta needs a lot of help as far as flavor is concerned. Add some herbs before starting the microwaving process.
My wife of Italian descent won't eat the stuff, but I like to play with my food. Ergo, I add aromatics to give it some flavor. In fact, one time I added chocolate chips just to see how it tasted. That was a great addition, almost like eating brownies after it cooled and thickened.
By now you probably have determined that I am not a purist.
Once the polenta has thickened it can be kept covered over low heat for quite a while. Coarser polenta benefits from this extended cooking because it gives it more time to hydrate (absorb liquid). While it is hot, you can add more liquid to keep it at the desired consistency. Don't be surprised if you end up with a 5:1 or even 6:1 water to corn ratio.
On A Chefs Life she talked about making grits in a double boiler. The oven method is also a low-n-slow way. Cooks Illustrated found that a pinch of baking soda reduced the need for stirring, though I think that applied more to the initial stage than the long tail.