To Make the Creamiest Polenta, Don't Turn on the Stove
Creamy polenta and I are not friends. Frenemies is probably the better word for our relationship, since I adore the taste and texture, but find making it from scratch incredibly, incredibly aggravating. Never mind all the memorable restaurant meals I’ve had, like Henrietta Red’s comforting brunch polenta, or the hearty short rib-topped version at Lulu Kitchen & Bar in Sag Harbor. When I try and replicate that gorgeously smooth texture at home, I end up burned—literally.
During my first attempt, what started as a golden, custardy mixture quickly ended up lumpy and chunky. No amount of stirring would save it; it tasted fine, but I couldn't let go of the fact that I'd had perfect polenta and it slipped away. So I decided to try again a few weeks later, armed with a new recipe and battle strategy. Attempt two was even worse. At one point, hot globs of polenta started shooting out of the pot (very dramatically, I might add) and left angry red marks on my hands and wrists. The enemy was too strong; I was forced to surrender. And I haven’t tried again since.
However, a new recipe from our Senior Food Editor, Mary-Frances Heck, has given me hope that perfectly creamy homemade polenta is not only achievable, but easy. Instead of laboring over the stovetop for nearly an hour, constantly stirring, you simply boil broth, gradually whisk in polenta, and wait. As the polenta sits, the hot broth gently, gradually cooks and swells the grains, and 45 minutes later, all that's left to do is whisk in the cheese and butter. Two steps, roughly 20 minutes of active time—I'm still a little wary from my last experience, but this just might give me the push I need to try again.
Check out our key tips for cooking the recipe below.
You Don’t Need Any Special Equipment
Just grab a saucepan and a whisk and you’re ready to go.
Bring the Broth to a Boil—But Make Sure the Polenta Doesn’t
The recipe’s first step involves bringing lower-sodium chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. As soon as that happens, stir in the salt and pepper and take it off the stove. Then, gradually whisk in the polenta, and make sure it doesn’t get too hot—otherwise, you’ll have lumpy results. Once it reaches a gravy-like texture, Mary-Frances says it’s time to put the lid on.
What makes this recipe so great for weeknights (and entertaining) is that once the lid is on, you have to let the polenta stand for 45 minutes—no heavy whisking, no constant stirring. You can use that time to relax or prep another part of your meal, if needed.
Don’t Panic Once the Lid Comes Off
The top of the polenta might seem a bit hardened when you uncover it, but never fear. Adding the fat (in this case, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and unsalted butter) and a little vigorous whisking will produce the creamy results you expect.
Try It With These Toppings…
We love serving our polenta with slow-roasted pork and vegetables. However, the nice thing about the recipe is that it’s a great blank canvas, and can also be paired with Osso Bucco, braised short ribs, or even a simple poached egg with chili crisp and scallions.
…and Seasonings, Too
If you want a really rich polenta, Mary-Frances says you could stir in mascarpone cheese. Freshly chopped parsley and roasted garlic would also be a nice touch.
Repurpose the Leftovers
Be mindful of the container you store leftover polenta in, since it will end up taking that shape. Mary-Frances recommends a buttered 8 x 8 baking dish, since it allows you to easily cut the polenta into smaller, separate square pieces. Pan-fry them so they’re crispy and top them with a sauce and cheese, as if they were a pasta—or, treat them like grit cakes and serve them for breakfast.
Get the Recipe: Easy Polenta