When I decided to study polenta, I looked at at least a dozen sites on the web and selected a couple to try. Polenta serves the same purpose of other starch accompaniments: use it to soak up luscious sauce.

My first recipe with polenta was pork medallions (see maple-glazed tenderloin) in a sauce of shallots, portabello mushrooms, dried cranberries and red wine. The polenta was served fried.

Traditionally, it’s made in a large, round-bottom copper pot stirred with a great wooden paddle. Indeed, one recipe I tried called for the meal to be stirred in a large pot constantly.

I made two trial batches earlier in the week, one the traditional, time-intensive way (minus, of course, the huge copper kettle with the rounded bottom, the long-handled wooden paddle, and wood fire) on the stove top stirring either constantly or frequently, and the other in the oven. The oven version seemed just as “good” given that both were ruined by the addition of far too much salt. All the recipes I found on the web called for 1 tbsp of Kosher salt per cup of cornmeal. I thought it excessive, but some of the recipes had pretty good credentials and so I was obedient against my better judgment.

I also experimented a bit with rebaking and frying some of it. It was all pretty nasty because of the salt, but I was able to get a feel for what I like nevertheless. The successful batch had about one-third the salt called for. I used no stock because several people’s sites warned that stocks overwhelm the flavor of the corn—just corn meal (1 cup), salt (1 tsp), fresh ground pepper (1 tsp) and butter (2 tbsp). I put it into a 350° oven for 40 minutes, hauled it out to stir in about 2 oz of freshly grated cheese (supposed to be Parmigiano, but I’m pretty sure what I had left in the refrigerator was Romano). And these very dry cheeses are pretty dang salty by themselves.

I did not review Alton Brown’s True Grit episode, though I wish I had, and I rejected his on-web recipe because it was chocked full of extra stuff and I only want the polenta for starters.

If successful, I griddle-fry large cubes of it to imbibe the pork tenderloin fond-shallot-onion-portobello-cranberry-marsala sauce I serve with brined tenderloin medallions. Accompanying it are string beans amandine.


One cup of corn meal yields enough polenta for 2-4 people if serving as a starch alongside a meat dish.


  1 quart filtered water
  1 cup course-ground corn meal
  1 tsp Kosher salt
  ½ tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  2 tbsp sweet cream butter
  2 oz. fresh-grated Parmiggiano cheese


1. In a large, oven-safe dish or dutch oven, wisk together the corn meal, salt, pepper and water. Add butter cut up into small chunks.

2. At the end of 40 minutes, pull out the polenta and stir. If you’re adding any other ingredients that do not fear heat (cheese, olives, onions, mushrooms, etc.) these can go in now. Return to oven for 10 more minutes.

3. Remove from oven, cool and serve.

Fried polenta

1. Cool polenta in a greased or wet square pan 13 x 9 or any size that suits you or allows you to get the shape and/or thickness you desire. After 15 minutes or so in the refrigerator, “unmold” onto cutting surface. Cut squares or other shapes. Store in refrigerator (probably up to several days.

2. Polenta can be deep fried, but I recommend heating a skillet with ½ to 1 inch of oil—a mixture of olive and high-temperature oil works fine (butter certainly does not unles you use a ghee). Heat until just before smoking (yup, this takes some experience). The depth of the oil is determined by how thick; nevertheless, I think one Salt Lake restaurant merely fries it in extra oil drizzled on their griddle.

3. Dredge the cubes of polenta in flour, seasoned if you desire. Shake off as much of the dredge as you can. To avoid dropping the skillet temperature, fry small numbers in the oil on each of the six sides until suitably brown. Drain on a paper towel. Serve with a luscious meat sauce drizzled over it.