Grit-Filled Polenta (Polengritsa)

polengritsa (3)So warm, soft, crispy and cheesy it’s almost stupid.

With every single recipe I create, I am positive that I have just cooked the most ridiculous thing I could have ever concocted.  But oh, how time makes fools of us all.  Sometimes what I make doesn’t really pan out (I’m so close to make a cooking pun here, but I just can’t get a grasp on it).  Sometimes the recipes aren’t original enough.  I don’t want to simply post my version of chocolate cake of chicken carbonara because it’s boring.  You don’t come here for a boring, nouveau-fusion, “let’s add mango to our salsa!” recipe; you come here for exciting, out-of-left-field, “let’s fill this mango with salsa and then cover it in maple syrup!” recipes.  Most of the time, however, the ideas I come up with have already been created by others.  Just last weekend, I thought I had an original idea of bacon-wrapped bananas until I discovered that not only are there a slew of bacon-banana recipes, but some of them did things with the dish I would never have dreamed of (such as making chocolate-covered, maple bacon bananas).  So it’s not surprising that my recipes are absurd to the point of being grotesque; after the failures, other people getting there first, and my own crazed creative standards, the ridiculous is all that’s left.

Case in point: this goddamn recipe.  I’ve been making Shrimp n’ Grits ever since my girlfriend incessantly bugged me to make it for her about a year and a half ago.  Earlier this year, my girlfriend started bugging me to make her polenta.
Hmmmmm.   Maybe I’m not innovative, but rather my girlfriend just annoys me a lot.
Upon producing said polenta, I realized that grits and polenta are pretty much the same thing.  Each uses cornmeal, each go well with shrimp, each can be chilled and fried –

And thus a recipe was born!  Prepare yourselves for the insane meeting of Italy and the American South which, if going by racial stereotypes alone, would be one of the rowdiest, drunkest, sexiest, and delicious weddings ever!


Fried, Grit-filled Polenta, or Polengritsa for short

I even stuffed the word “Grits” into the word “Polenta” . . . I’M BANGING ON ALL CYLINDERS OVER HERE!

– 2 cups of Cornmeal
– 4 cups of Chicken Stock
– 2 cups of Whole Milk (After drinking whole milk, I shall never go back.  It’s the rare steak of milk.)
– 2 cups of Water
– 1 stick of Butter
– 6 oz of Cheddar Cheese
– 6 oz of Parmesan
– 3 tsp of Salt
– 4 thick strips of Bacon
– 4 thick strips (or equivalent) of Prosciutto
– ¾  cups of Red Onion (chopped)
– 1 tsp of Black Pepper
– Paprika
– 1 – 2 Jalapenos (chopped)
– Olive Oil
– Vegetable Oil
– Fresh Parsley (chopped)
– Garlic

Once again, I used Alton Brown’s recipes for making the actual grits and polenta.  They are both insanely easy to make as long as you have some patience, a little focus, and a whisk.  I did do some things differently, however.  When tasted side-by-side, grits and polenta are similar and yet distinct; grits are creamier while polenta is more porridge like.  Yet when they are smashed together and fried in bar-form, it can be a challenge to distinguish the differences between the two, so I decided to modify them each a tad.
I used more cheddar and parmesan than the recipes state, although you’ll want to save some of each for later.

  • For the grits, I cut up four strips of bacon, cooked them, and then threw in the jalapenos and sauteed it all together.  This helped make the grits spicier to contrast the polenta.
  • To the polenta, I added some finely chopped parsley, paprika (to taste), and prosciutto.  I was able to find cubed prosciutto (which I crisped up in a pan) so it came out more “hammy”.  If you can’t find cubed prosciutto, just get the equivalent of four strips of bacon.  Tip for thin Prosciutto – If you bake it, it’ll easily crumble into the polenta.

It’s still tough to tell them apart in the final dish, although everyone I served it to didn’t seem to mind; some didn’t really know the difference between grits and polenta, some had never had either, and some slipped into a food coma before they were able to say anything.  I’ll take my success where I can get it, ignorance and incapacitation be damned.

  • Make the grits first, and do it in the morning for breakfast.  Eating a single bowl takes away enough volume so as not to make it difficult when covering them with the polenta, but it leaves enough to make a substantial layer.  Could you just change the amount of grits at the beginning so you weren’t forced to eat grits?  Sure.  You could also sacrifice a lamb over the dish in the name of the ancient god Ba’al; just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  Besides, if you have to be forced to eat grits, why the hell are you cooking this thing?
  • In a baking dish (8”x8” or 6”x9”) that is lined with parchment paper, pour the remainder of the grits in.  Smooth it out with a spatula until everything is even and then refrigerate until completely firm, which should take most of the day.
  • Go for a twelve mile hike, watch the entire The Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition trilogy, stake out and rob a bank; anything that will get you out of the house for eight hours.
  • Make the polenta.  While that’s cooking, go ahead and cut up the firm grits into bars.  My cuts were about 2”x4” and I was able to get about six bars out of it.  There will be scraps leftover, but those are called dinner.
  • When the polenta is done, take another 8”x8” baking dish lined with parchment paper and pour about ⅓ of the polenta in.  Smooth it out with a spatula until everything is even.
  • Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the polenta.  We’re not looking for full coverage here, I’d say maybe one handful or less.
  • Place your grit bars on top of the polenta and cheese.  If you leave enough parchment paper coming up over the sides, I would take a marker and give yourself some guiding lines on the edges of the paper so you know exactly where to cut once everything is covered.
  • Pour another ⅓ of the polenta over the grits.  Take the spatula and gently push the polenta into the spaces around the grit bars, all the while softly shaking the baking dish.
  • Spread another round of cheese over it all, and then pour in the rest of your polenta.  Like before, smooth, even, and shake.
  • Place this in the fridge and wait.  You could go rob another bank to pass these second eight hours, or maybe just go to sleep.  Only you can decide how badass of a cook you want to be.
  • In the morning, cut the polenta-grit bars using the guidelines you drew earlier, and prepare for heating.
  • Deep frying isn’t really an option as the suckers are just too big and dense; they’ll fall apart in the oil before heating all the way through.  If you must deep-fry, you’re gonna have to batter and/or cover with lots of breadcrumbs first.  For me, I put olive oil on the bars themselves rather than in the pan, took some parmesan cheese and sprinkled it on each side and sauteed them.  The crust was crispy and tasty, and it added some symmetry because of the cheddar that was layered into the bar.

Once finished, this thing is pretty outrageous and embodies the word “Contrast”.  Light, crispy, and cheesy on the outside, and dense, creamy, and soft on the inside.   Sweet and spicy bacon bits in the middle, salty prosciutto on the edge.  The parmesan crust and the gooey cheddar layers.  The thing is quite heavy, so I wouldn’t go building a meal around it.  If anything, maybe a small salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.  I might try these again but make them smaller and more manageable, but for now I say, “Go big or go home.”

Enjoy!  (FYI – Be on the look-out for that salsa-filled, maple syrup mango.)

polengritsa (4)

Thanks to my friends Dan Forcade and Elliot Grossman for acting as taste-testers!