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Polenta Versus Grits- What's Up?

Updated on January 24, 2012

I have a brand, spanking new love. Brace yourselves. POLENTA. I grew up eating corn bread (yeah, I’m from the South...that’s what we do) so I already have a love affair with corn products. Grits, hominy, johnny cakes...I love it all. Yet somehow, I never even heard of polenta until I was in college. How have I missed this my whole life?? I did a quick google search to see what people thought about polenta and to try to figure out how it is that I didn’t have it as a kid. Here’s the problem- PEOPLE THINK IT’S THE SAME THING AS GRITS! Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ok, both high fructose corn syrup and ethanol are made out of corn but I don’t see people getting those two things mixed up. Granted, they can both be used as the foundation of a wall of flavor in your recipes, but here are two recipes for you to enjoy the differences that these two products can bring to the table. (WARNING- There is NOTHING low fat or vegan about these all.)

Polenta Cakes

*I once learned that the key to good polenta is by starting out salting the poop out of your cooking water. If you don’t do this, the polenta will NEVER taste right, so salt right to the edge of thinking “Whoops, that’s a bad dish.” You’ll thank me later. Also, this is a recipe that you need to taste along the way. It’s the only way to know if you’ve got it right. Ok, here we go.

Look at that...sheer wonderfulness.
Look at that...sheer wonderfulness.

½ cup milk

½ cup half and half

2 ½ cups water

Kosher salt

1 cup polenta

¼ cup mascarpone

Almond oil

Honey/ powdered sugar

In a very heavy saucepan, combine milk, half and half, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over low heat. Generously salt. Add polenta, whisking constantly until it gets too thick to continue. Grab a wooden spoon and keep at it. You don’t have stir constantly now, but definitely go with frequently.

When you taste here, you are looking for a smooth texture. If it feels grainy, add more milk and water and keep cooking. When you finally get it smooth (30 minutes is about right), add in the mascarpone. Pour mixture into a square pan (8x8 is good for a nice thick treat) and throw it in the refrigerator. Don’t be scared to do this part a day in advance. The flavors are going to meld into wonderfulness.

Cut the chilled polenta into whatever shape sounds good to you. Circles and squares are easy to handle, but stars and dinosaurs are more fun! Coat a non-stick skillet with almond oil and heat over medium-high heat. Let the pan get hot, then add the polenta. Cook on each side until it’s a golden brown. Serve immediately drizzled in honey or sprinkled in powdered sugar.

Smoked Gouda Grits

These grits are so good; they’ll make you slap your mama. Prepare yourself. This ain’t your grandma’s instant grits. The most important part of this recipe is to get good grits. The instant kind will NEVER work. You are looking for stone ground goodness. Here we go:

See, THAT is what I'm talking about.
See, THAT is what I'm talking about.

1 cup water

1 tsp salt

½ cup butter

1 cup milk (at least)

1 cup heavy cream (at least)

Block of smoked gouda

In a heavy saucepan, heat water, salt, butter, milk, and heavy cream over low heat until boiling. Add grits and stir like your life depends on it. After the grits thicken up you can stop stirring constantly, but a good stir every minute is a good goal to have. At this time, you can begin to add cheese, extra milk, and extra cream in the proportions that sounds good to you. The more creaminess that you can get the grits to “drink”, the better your end result will be. Do this for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat and serve piping hot. (This makes good leftovers too!)

I hope you enjoy trying out these recipes. Please let me know what you think. Even better, tell me your favorite uses of polenta and grits. I’m always looking to expand!


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