good n p'lenta
March 13, 2019 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to make polenta and don't want to go to the store. I have a bag of Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal. Can I make polenta with this?

I love to make soft polenta in a pot (not solid from a tube), but always buy it in a box that is expressly called "Polenta" or "quick cooking polenta."
Bob's Red Mill ALSO makes another product called "polenta" and yet another called "corn grits." What I have is neither of the above. What I have is just called Cornmeal, and on it it says "No short cuts" and the only recipe on the box is for corn bread.
Can I cook this stuff in boiling water and make polenta (or corn meal mush or corn grits)? If so how long would I cook it and how much water would I use? My concern is that polenta cornmeal is maybe precooked and this is not.
posted by nantucket to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. I only make polenta with Bob's Red Mill cornmeal. This is my process:

Put 1 C cornmeal in heavy pot with 4C cold water. Whisk with salt until smooth. Bring to boil. Put lid on tightly and lower heat to not-quite-the-lowest-flicker-of-gas. Cook for thirty minutes, whisking once or twice, adding water as needed, adjusting heat as needed (should be at a slow simmer when covered). If it tastes satisfyingly cooked after thirty minutes, stir in butter/nutritional yeast/olive oil/parmesan/whatever you season with; otherwise cook another ten minutes.

This is the Cooks' Illustrated non-stir polenta recipe. I didn't grow up eating the cooked-for-hours-and-stirred-constantly traditional Italian version, but I've never had any complaints.

Basically you can make corn mush/polenta/etc with any cornmeal; the texture may differ a little. If you have the coarsest grind of Bob's Red Mill, it's a noticeable difference, but not unpleasant or anything. I usually buy the medium grind.
posted by Frowner at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

TheKitchn has you covered. Short answer is yes, you can probably do this provided your cornmeal is medium or coarsely-ground (which, it probably is). It will just take longer to cook.

I want to say I've done this and it turned out fine but it was also a long time ago if I did. If I didn't, it sounds like something I would totally do without too much worry. Good luck.
posted by darksong at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2019

I usually just use regular old cornmeal. Boil four cups of liquid (I like half water and half milk) to one cup of the cornmeal. I like to saute some garlic in butter first. When the liquid is boiling, add the cornmeal, bring the heat way down, and stir until it's nice and soft. Add more butter and cheese if you like, voila! It's easy as pie.
posted by cakelite at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2019

NYTimes has a "basic polenta recipe" that just calls for regular old cornmeal. 4-5 cups water depending on how mushy you want it, cook for at least 45 minutes.
posted by brainmouse at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2019

Yes! The usual ratio for corn meal mush is 1:4 ground corn to water. My grandmother taught me to mix the cornmeal with a quarter of the cold water and set aside, bring the remaining water (with salt) to a boil, then slowly pour in the cornmeal slurry, whisking constantly. Turn the heat to low and cook until done. I don’t know how long that would be—probably 15-20 minutes?

(Or, you can mix 1/4c cornmeal with 1c water and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes or so, stirring every 30s or so. It’ll probably still be lumpy. )

Alternately, I was watching Good Eats Reloaded last night, and Alton Brown had you just mix the cornmeal with all the cold water, and then bring to a boil while whisking constantly.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:39 PM on March 13, 2019

You sure can! From the NYTimes:

Salt and pepper
1 cup medium or fine cornmeal
Parmesan for soft polenta, optional

For firm polenta use 4 cups water; for soft polenta use 5 cups water. Bring water to a boil in a medium-size heavy sauce pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Pour cornmeal slowly into water, stirring with a wire whisk or wooden spoon. Continue stirring as mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn heat to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If polenta becomes quite thick, thin it with 1/2 cup water, stir well and continue cooking. Add up to 1 cup more water as necessary, to keep polenta soft enough to stir. Put a spoonful on a plate, let it cool, then taste. Grains should be swollen and taste cooked, not raw. Adjust salt and add pepper if you wish.
For firm polenta, lightly butter a baking sheet or shallow dish, approximately 8 1/2 by 11 inches. Carefully pour polenta into pan. Using a spatula, spread polenta to a thickness of 3/4 inch. Cool to room temperature to allow polenta to solidify. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. For soft polenta, add 6 tablespoons butter to pot and stir well. Serve immediately or transfer to a double boiler set over low heat, cover and keep warm for up to an hour or so. (Or set the saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water.) Stir well before spooning into low soup bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.
posted by cooker girl at 2:39 PM on March 13, 2019

This should work fine with no adjustment to your normal recipe. Dry polenta cornmeal is not precooked. I’m almost positive all of the different cornmeal varieties are just different grinds.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:40 PM on March 13, 2019

Per Bon Appetit's recipe: Cornmeal cooks faster than polenta, so if replacing the polenta with cornmeal, cook it about half as long.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:40 PM on March 13, 2019

Thanks everyone!
posted by nantucket at 2:48 PM on March 13, 2019

The tips above are all solid - there are a few ways to approach it (I go with the "gradually whisk into the simmering water" approach myself).

I would just add this, for tastiness: using vegetable or chicken stock in place of the water if you're feeling fancy.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:49 PM on March 13, 2019

You can also soak polenta overnight in your cooking liquid of choice, and dramatically cut down the cooking time.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:58 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I add the olive oil (butter) midway through cooking. I can't eat dairy. My favoritest pizza is with green olives and pepperoni, so I often stir in chopped green olives and pepperoni and the texture of polenta with plenty of olive oil with pizza toppings mixed in meets my pizza cravings reasonably well without actual cheese.

Grits are similar. Leftover grits or polenta can be sliced and fried to heavenly perfection.
posted by theora55 at 3:48 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

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