verisimilitude and versatility of food: for three years! ::::
It’s been three years! On the blog! What better way to celebrate than with a cake. I’m going with a savory cake made from polenta, in chip form. Think of these polenta chips as what a cupcake is to a cake. The breadth of my blog recipes is far and wide, just like the use of polenta in cuisine. (And plus I’m a very picky sweet cake person. I didn’t want to put a damper on my celebration with a sub-par cake recipe trial.)
Polenta is one of food’s most versatile grains, garnering a long history of nourishing people since the Roman times. Before corn was pervasive in the New World in the 16th century, it was often made with other starchy grains such as chestnut, farro, or chickpeas. I first ate it in Atlanta, grilled and topped with an oozy mushroom sauce. I never quite got the right recipe in my own kitchen until I realized that it didn’t have to just be presented in a block topped with sauce. I encountered soft polenta topped with Parmesan served like porridge. I ate it with mascarpone cheese and fresh marinara. I found it baked in fancy porcelain dishes topped with caramelized onions. I even made it gently pan-fried in a warm, salty broth one morning. I discovered that Peach likes it soft in a bowl, topped with melted butter.
But there was fried polenta. A satisfying crunch on the outside, creamy and soft on the inside. Like popcorn, but not. Like a corn chip, but not.
One can argue that there is no zenith or nadir in what polenta is, it’s “polenta-ness”, whatever the presentation. It just is. I extolled the virtues of polenta in my polenta cubes in broth post last year, understanding that simple can be simply complex, versatile. Sometimes you need a little help to understand its verisimilitude in this world, how it spans cultures and cuisines. And that is accomplished with sampling as much as you can, in every permutation.
When I found my fried friend in a restaurant in Half Moon Bay, California, my kitchen duplication was arguably the ugliest and most disappointing, even if still tasty. Why does my polenta always stick to the pan, leaving the crusty goodness behind? Why does it fall apart when I try to flip it? Oven fried polenta, why don’t you ever get crispy?
I found the answer to my failures. I basically became what I call a Pinterest recipe whore during my late night breastfeeding awakenings of Sky-Girl when I was on maternity leave a few months ago, walking the avenues of Pinterest topics multiple times a day, looking for a new trick. This recipe is one of those finds. The secret is dredging the polenta squares in uncooked polenta, then frying it. I leaped over my fear of the fryer, that wicked hot cauldron of oil on my stove, and decided to fry the suckers.
And it worked. Even Eat commented, “Wow, these are good!” with a hint of incredulity in his voice. And he’s not a polenta fan. We found the thinner cut, actual fry shaped polenta pieces fried up more crispy (see photo above) than the square pieces. One downfall of any fried food is that it does not stay crispy for long. After you make this, serve immediately to enjoy the full crispy polenta love. I found that it’s okay to be flexible here though. Even if the crispy is gone, the versatility of enjoying soggy polenta is still awesome. But then, polenta can really do no wrong in my book. Versatile!
Here’s to three years! Thank you, readers, for keeping up with me!
One year ago: mulled cider with homemade spice sachet
Two years ago: cannellini bean, ricotta, chocolate torte
Three years ago: the first post! – debutante cake
- 1 cup (165 g) polenta (I used a finely ground one)
- 2 cups (500 ml) room temperature water
- 1½ cups (375 ml) boiling water (approx)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Sea salt
- ⅓ cup polenta, extra, for coating
- Vegetable oil for frying (I used canola)
- fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- Finely grated parmesan
- In a medium pot, add 2 cups cold water and gradually stir in the polenta, whisking to prevent lumps. Turn on the heat to medium and stir the polenta constantly until it starts to simmer.
- Add 1½ cups boiling water, and then bring the polenta mixture to a simmer again.
- Turn down the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the polenta from clumping. Stir in the butter and add salt to taste.
- Pour the mixture and evenly spread the mixture into a baking dish or pan lined with plastic wrap. Set aside to cool about 2 hours to allow polenta to firm up before slicing (the fridge works well).
- Flip the polenta cake onto a large cutting board and slice into cubes (about ⅓-inch thick). Alternatively, slice into french fry sizes (I made a few of these from the edges I trimmed off and felt these were crisper and more fun to eat.)
- Place the extra ⅓ cup polenta in a shallow dish and toss in the sliced polenta cubes to coat evenly. Shake off excess polenta.
- Heat vegetable oil (make sure it is deeper than the thickness of the polenta so as to fully immerse it when frying) and deep-fry the polenta cubes in batches, for about 5-7 minutes until golden and crisp.
- Remove and drain on paper towels, and then place in a serving bowl. While they are still hot, sprinkle with salt, rosemary and plenty of grated parmesan. Serve immediately.
- The other food blog noted that for a healthier alternative, try baking these in the oven at 200C (400F) instead of deep-frying them.