This is the creamiest, easiest polenta ever, with a perfect, lump-free texture. Since it requires almost no stirring, it can simmer unattended while you make dinner. The secret is to add a pinch of baking soda and cover the pot while it cooks over the lowest heat possible. I got the idea of using baking soda from an article in Cook’s Illustrated, but I had to tinker with the recipe quite a bit to get a polenta that set up properly when cold, as the original recipe made a very wet polenta that dissolved when layered with sauce. This one does the trick, though, producing perfect slices for any baked or grilled dish.
Nearly No-Stir Polenta
Makes 15 (3 inch or 7.6 cm) squares, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
7 cups (1656 ml) water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 teaspoon (6.25 ml) salt
Pinch of baking soda
1 1/2 cups (360 ml or 235 grams) polenta, grits or coarsely ground cornmeal
2 ounces (56 grams) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
Put the water, salt and baking soda in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the polenta into the water and stir constantly. Return the mixture to a boil, continuing to stir, and let it cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat as low as possible and cover the pan. Set the timer for 5 minutes.
When the timer rings, quickly whisk the polenta to remove any lumps, scraping down the bottom and sides of the pot. Cover the polenta and let it cook undisturbed for 25 minutes. Remove it from the heat and mix in the cheese and butter.
For soft polenta, spoon into serving dishes as soon as the polenta is done.
For grilled, baked or fried polenta, pour the polenta onto a rimmed baking sheet and use a wet spatula to spread the polenta into a layer about 1/2 inch (13 mm) thick. Let it cool to room temperature then refrigerate the uncovered polenta for a couple of hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to use it, turn the baking sheet onto a counter or table, so that the polenta is touching the other surface, and remove the baking sheet. Cut it into squares or rectangles and bake, fry or grill the polenta as directed in the recipe you’re using it in.