Polenta is an ingredient that may sound exotic and unapproachable, but it is in fact, easy to make, and even better… it's delicious! Every cook knows you should always try a food at least once, regardless of your predisposition. Polenta is nothing more than good old starch.
Not all starches are the same, and polenta is essentially coarsely ground corn. Starches such as potatoes and rice thicken as they cook. When starches are released, whatever liquid is cooking may thicken. Polenta has a couple of different stages:
- When it's cooked and warm, polenta is creamy and rich.
- When it chills, polenta firms up and stiffens. The two textures depending on temperature allow for a lot of different applications.
Cooked polenta can also be considered gruel or porridge, but I assure you, it tastes nothing like Charles Dickens describes in his novels. When done right, polenta can offer a great compliment to a meat dish. When chilled, cut into slices, and grilled, it becomes something really remarkable. Polenta is the ultimate accompaniment to any dish.
As simple as the ingredient sounds, it’s as easy to make. With the right technique, you can take what would normally be a humble ingredient, pair it with a nice protein and have a ridiculously simple and delicious meal.
Steak n’ Grains
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, small dice
2 carrots, peeled and diced
8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed, quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
½ cup red wine
1 ½ cups beef stock
3 tomatoes, medium dice
2 Tablespoons parsley, stems removed, finely chopped, for garnish
3 Tablespoons pomegranate seeds for garnish
- Heat a braising pan to medium high. When hot, add the grapeseed oil. Once the oil is shimmering and hot, add the steak, seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper. Brown the steak on all sides, then remove and set aside.
- Add the onions, stirring frequently until they are lightly caramelized.
- Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for three to five more minutes, or until the carrots begin to darken in color.
- After your carrots and mushrooms are done, add the garlic, and continue cooking for thirty seconds, or until it becomes fragrant.
- Add the wine and scrape the bottom of your pan with a wooden spatula, scraping up any fond that may be there.
- After the wine has reduced by half, add the beef stock and reduce it by a third.
- When the sauce has reduced, add the steak and tomatoes. Continue reducing over medium low heat until the sauce has reduced by half.
4 ½ cups water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 ¼ cup polenta
¾ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
½ cup whole milk
- Put the water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Add the polenta to the boiling water, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to low and cook polenta for about 20 minutes. The polenta should be tender and thick. Remove from heat.
- While the polenta is hot, add the cheese and milk and stir until it is evenly combined.
Now it's time to put it all together! Add a generous spoonful of polenta to the bottom of a bowl. Then ladle a portion of the steak ragu over part of the polenta. Garnish with parsley and pomegranates.
The polenta will offset the richness of the steak ragu, and the pomegranates will provide a little brightness to cut through the big flavors of the polenta and steak.
The simple ingredient of polenta adds a great flavor component that isn’t a potato or bacon. Recipes aren’t carved in stone (unless they're pastries then follow that to a "T"). Otherwise, play around, swap out ingredients, try new combinations, even if it may at first seem bizarre. There's always new dishes to create and eat!
If you love to cook and want to muscle up your culinary skills in the new year, The Chopping Block's Culinary Boot Camp is starting new classes for 2017 very soon.