I love corn, as well as most dishes made from it, both savory and sweet. During the holidays I look for ways to not only work it into my dishes but creative techniques to give the ordinary, like polenta, some holiday magic.
This fried polenta is a very easy to make, tasty, gluten-free Christmas appetizer or starter that will impress your family and guests. It consists of cornmeal boiled into a porridge that is molded, cut, and then fried, and in this case, nicely decorated for the holidays! Bonus: you can buy precooked polenta to cut down on prep time!
If you've never cooked with polenta before, here's a primer. Polenta is the Italian term for hulled and crushed corn and it's common at Brazilian tables, especially in the southern and southeastern regions where a large number of Italian immigrants settled. In Brazil, as in many other countries, polenta can be consumed as a porridge, baked, fried, or grilled.
But the fried version is one of the most popular side dishes in Southern Brazil, as well as at Brazilian steakhouses in the US. It's usually cut into either a triangular or rectangular shape, but because of the joyous holiday season, I'm using a star-shaped cookie cutter for ours, and serving it as an appetizer.
Before we start though, here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
1. Make your polenta four to six hours in advance or buy a packaged prepared one. Why? Because when first prepared, polenta has an oatmeal-like consistency and needs a few hours to solidify enough for pan frying.
2. Cut polenta into 3/4 to 1-inch-thick pieces, which is sufficiently thick to support topping with sauce or other moist ingredients without becoming soggy.
3. Pan fry in butter, oil, or a mixture of both in a non-stick pan, which prevents the polenta from sticking to the pan and helps brown the exterior more quickly.
4. If pan-frying several pieces at the same time, use a large skillet to give the pieces enough room to crispen properly. Avoid overcrowding the pan or the polenta will steam (and end up soggy instead of crispy).