Baked Polenta Fries

Baked Polenta Fries Recipe

Let's talk about all the great things you can do with a thick, shapeable, structured polenta. Don't get me wrong, I love a hearty, satisfying, sloppy-textured bowl of soft polenta with its porridge-like spirit now and then, but over the past few days I've been thinking about all the creative things you can do with a thicker polenta base.

The premise is simple, bring a bit of liquid to a simmer and add in enough polenta to create a structured dough. Cook until the mixture is thick enough that you can spread it and it will hold its shape. Smooth that dough out onto a baking sheet and allow it to cool. Now you have a slab of polenta that you can cut, slice or dice and then recook in many different ways - grill, fry, saute, bake, etc.

Today I wanted to make baked polenta fries, but you could just as easily fry or cook them up in a big skillet until they are nice and golden.

Other ideas:

- Cut the polenta slab into small cubes and pan-fry them in a little bit of oil until you've got a crunchy crouton - perfect for salads and soups.

- Cut it into cookie-sized rounds, layer them in a casserole with a favorite pasta sauce and some cheese, bake, and you've got a great family-style dinner.

- Cut into little diamond-shapes, bake or grill, and use as a crostini base.

- Your turn. I know you can probably do better that this. How about some ideas in the comments?

When you are shopping look for Italian brands of polenta, or de la Estancia ( from Argentina), a brand I like to use (see photo). I turn to de la Estancia quite often because it is milled very fine and cooks up in just a couple minutes - perfect for weeknights. It has a beautiful egg-yolk yellow color and I give it bonus points for being made from organic, non-GMO corn. Every polenta has its own personality based on the type of corn used, how it is milled, and how fast it gets to market. Many of the readily available brands can take 20, 30, 40 minutes to cook and texture and taste will vary from one to the next, so try a variety of brands before settling on one you like. For recipes like this one, at the end of the day you want a very thick polenta that will hold its shape.

I used a mix of water and milk for the liquid base because the milk would help me get that nice golden color when the polenta went into the hot (450 degree) oven to bake. I went for "wide-cut" fries because I thought they would be easier to handle, but after this batch I realized that with a little TLC you could certainly cut them half as thick before baking.

Polenta: This is the thickness you are after.

They make great party-fare or finger food, with enough structure to stand up to a fondue (cheese-based, tomato-based, the options are endless) - pretty much anything that pairs with corn should be open for discussion.

I'll leave the dipping sauce suggestions up to you as well - I'm thinking a chipotle-spiked tomato sauce, or a creamy salsa like this one....or something creamy and garlicky? Yum.

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Baked Polenta Fries Recipe

This is a great make-ahead recipe. You can make a selection of dipping sauces in the days before you want to serve it and cook up the polenta in advance as well. The day of a party or dinner cut and bake-off the fries just before serving.

2 cups organic milk
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta (see above)
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup melted clarified butter or olive oil

Bring the milk and water just to a boil in a large saucepan. Slowly stream in the polenta while stirring constantly. Stir in the salt and turn down the heat a bit if needed (you don't want the polenta to scorch). Continue stirring until the polenta thickens up (see picture), this can take anywhere from just a few minutes to much longer depending on your polenta. Stir in the cheese.

Remove from heat and spread out 1/2-inch thick onto a baking sheet using a spatula (although I feel like I get a better shape by letting it cool a minute or two and then using my hands). Chill in a refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight. Cut into wide-cut "fry" shapes using a straight-edge for guidance and uniformity (or opt for a more rustic cut). Rub each fry with a bit of clarified butter or olive oil and sprinkle with some salt.

Bake in a 450 degree oven, middle rack, for 20 minutes or until golden and crispy. Flip the fries once after ten minutes.

Makes 2 dozen wide-cut fries.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • I make polenta with just milk, then when it's ready I add honey and eat it like oats porridge.

    Sunny
  • ohmigosh - I haven't had fried mush in years. It never occurred to me that it was polenta. Thank you so much for reminding me of a delicious comfort food.

    Kathleen
  • I love crispy polenta! You've got some great ideas for how to use it - another might be to make little round discs and then top with something like sauteed mushrooms with thyme as a lovely appetizer... Great photo!!

    Geneve
  • Our chef at work cuts out firm polenta with a nice flower cookie cutter and bakes them. Once baked, he layers two flowers with a thin slice of spicy cheese inbetween and on top with half a grape tomato on top for the center of the flower, and bakes again to melt the cheese and wilt the tomato. He serves his polenta flower with a garlicy mexican chicken stew. Very pretty and delicious!

    Tari
  • millet salad for 'deb' - out of new vegetarian cooking boil millet in salted water til done drain and drizzle in xvoo, lemon juice, zest, s+p to taste serve over washed rocket w/ diced avocado and sauteed pine nuts it's yummy w/ grilled fish

    kari
  • What beautiful photos as always!

    kim
  • Once a had a great polenta appetizer - the polenta was thick and cut into large squares then lightly sauteed to brown the edges and served with a mushroom sauce over top.

    Karin
  • That's great! What would you do with millet? I picked up a bag of organic millet and have no idea how to make it into a tasty meal. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    Deb
  • My mom grew up on a farm in the midwest and the cooking traditions in her family are more hillbilly than anything (tennessee I think but way back, maybe mid 1800s). Polenta is grits and grits are divine. But sometimes ya gotta change things up so grits can morph into other things, namely "Mush". You make a mess of bland grits, pour it in a bread pan, cool overnight. In the morning, slice the congealed grits into smallish rectangles, saute in butter to get a bit of color, serve hot with syrup, eat up. Pull on your overalls and go back out to the barn/field/chicken house/tractor, what ever fits for the day.

    nika
  • I covet those squashed-looking cups you're displaying the polenta fries in! Re: Thick polenta - growing up, my grandmother made polenta regularly. We always turned it out on a board and let it set up just a bit, then cut big slices with a piece of thread. I never even knew what "soft" polenta was until I saw it on television. I'm now the keeper of the polenta pot in my family, and I make it thick too.

    Michael
  • To faint for...I want to dive into the picture....how deliciooous!! I marked this page I know...I know I'll be in troubles with all these goodies... Great Blog! Cheers

    TICTAC
  • I had polenta for the first time recently, when I made a recipe off Food TV for caeser salad with polenta croutons. Very tasty, but they didn't keep well. I have a feeling I'll like the fries even more. I love your website. I just purchased one of the cookbooks you suggested, and have been reading it like a novel. There's a review on my blog.

    Barb
  • My friends once made pizza with a polenta crust...

    Vincci
  • I love "Polenta Fries"! Yours look very appetizing... Your pictures are always amazing!

    Rosa
  • I never had any luck with polenta until I learned to bake it. Place in a greased baking pan at 3:1 ratio 3 cups water for 1 cup polent for firm, or 4:1 for soft. Bake until done. It works like magic for me.

    Seattlejo
  • Wow, you make it thick! When I do polenta for shapes, I always cook it much thinner than that, so it pours out, then it solidifies as it cools. Anyway, I wonder if you could make filled polenta fritters, like you'd do with risotto. Cheese in the center, or cheese+red pepper or something. Filled, shaped, fried?

    Lulu
  • Speaking of Polenta... I decided to make Lasagna for a late dinner the other day. Unfortunately I was plum out of ricotta! I had a round of store bought plolenta, so I cubed it and blended it in the blender with lots of chopped basil and a little water and S&P. Made the creamiest addition to my chicken lasagna. Yummo!

    Tracie
  • The picture looks all so great and yummy! I'm going to try it right now. Thanks Heidi, for continuing this treat to the tastebuds!

    Twinkle
  • I'm a huge fan of polenta crackers. I have a recipe posted for them on my food blog, but the premise is fairly easy. Polenta with fresh herbs, spread thin on a cookie sheet, and baked until crispy. Quite delicious and extremely versatile!

    Christiane
  • That's it! I've got polenta in the pantry and I'm going to make this right this very second! What beautiful photos as always!

    matt
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