Cooking Polenta Can Be An Art Form

Polenta is an Italian dish that actually requires an inordinate amount of attention when cooking. We usually don’t think that cooking what is essentially a corn-based mush, as anything that would require that much attention from the time you put it on the stove to the time you took it off.

That isn’t the case as far as cooking polenta is concerned. Polenta has been described as mush with an attitude, and may not turn out well if not given at least a little bit of tender, loving care during the cooking process. Even if one simply regards polenta as cornmeal, and nothing more, one still has to take certain precautions in cooking up a batch of cornmeal to get it right. We’re used to getting a mix in a box, dumping it in a pan with a cup of water, stirring it once or twice, and that’s it. Not so with polenta.

Not Complicated, But Complicated Enough – Cooking polenta isn’t really much more complicated than that, but it does need to be stirred, and it needs to be cooked over even heat. When cooked over a fire in a large pot, the traditional method, polenta had to be stirred constantly to keep it heated evenly. That’s not so much a problem given today’s modern electric and gas ranges, as well as cooking utensils designed to promote even heating. Still, polenta needs to be stirred on occasion, and the larger the batch being made, the more stirring is needed. One just doesn’t need to be stirring it constantly.

The heat needs to be just right as well, so the moisture won’t evaporate before the cornmeal has fully cooked, or conversely, if too much liquid has been added, the polenta will need to be cooked until the excess moisture evaporates. By selecting a proper pot or pan, getting the temperature right, and carefully measuring the ingredients, cooking polenta should present few problems. Slow cooking in a crock pot can be an ideal way of going about it. Irrespective of just how one is going about cooking polenta, most everyone who does so will agree that the most important thing of all, during the cooking process is the taste test, done when the polenta is nearly done cooking. Tasting can tell if more salt, liquid or meal needs to be added.

Tasting will tell if the polenta has the right texture, which is extremely important. The nearly cooked polenta needs to be checked for consistency as well, in other words not too creamy, although it will thicken, and no lumps. Polenta, when it has the right consistency, will never be runny. If you have a spoonful of it, you’ll need to shake the spoon to get the polenta to run off.

Grits And Polenta – While the two are not exactly the same, a comparison can nevertheless be made between polenta and hominy grits. Many who prepare grits are very precise in their way of doing so. Perhaps those best in a position to make up a batch of excellent polenta are those who day after day, cook up their own grits. It probably goes without saying that time after time, the grits turn out to have just the right texture, flavor and consistency, just as is required in a decent batch of polenta. While cooking polenta in a large iron pot, hanging in the fireplace, stirring it constantly with a long-handled spoon, may seem a bit like going back to simpler ways, even the Italians will probably tell you that modern cooking methods are just as good, as are the results, though there are always a few who will elect to stick with tradition, and whose polenta most likely turns out a little better.

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