Our Creamy Polenta Recipe oozes luxuriousness, has a hint of nuttiness from parmesan cheese and is the perfect accompaniment to well, just about anything. Easier to make than you think, super inexpensive and a great way to impress.
Creamy Polenta Recipe
Despite it’s outer appearance of luxury and reputation for being difficult to cook, a creamy polenta even at it’s most complicated is a basic non-fussy side you can whip up with virtually no cooking skill whatsoever. When we’re tired of creamy mashed potatoes or parmesan noodles, a creamy polenta recipe is always what we look towards to serve with saucy chicken dishes, seared scallops, and everything in between. (And stay tuned Monday to see what we ended up serving this particular batch with.)
Our version is simple, and we want it to be, so it’s adaptable to an array of flavors and additions depending on what you’re serving it with. For this particular batch we throw in a handful of parmesan cheese for nuttiness, but other than that, you can play around with it.
Not all polenta is created equal, so let’s dig in to the basics of it. In it’s most common state you’ll find polenta serve as a porridge of sorts made from finely ground cornmeal. Typically it has less texture than grits, but I love texture, so we actually use the same grind of cornmeal we also use in our shrimp and grits.
Alternately, you can find polenta in a denser, more solid state. This version is often served crispy or in cake form, similar to our Polenta Lasagna. You can find this version ready to be baked or fried in tubes at the grocery store, though we much prefer to make our own.
Ingredients in our Creamy Polenta Recipe
Cornmeal. Again, as I mentioned before, I like texture. So while you could simply use finely ground cornmeal, we like to up our game and use this version of polenta that’s a little bit higher in quality than what you’ll find from the cornmeal you use to make cornbread. I can find it at pretty much any grocery store these days, but it’s also easy to drop in your cart on Amazon or to buy directly from the brand.
Chicken broth. Most versions of polenta will call for water, but I find this doesn’t flavor the creamy polenta significantly enough. Using a low-sodium chicken stock or broth will add so much extra depth and flavor.
Milk. To add extra creaminess, we like to use whole milk as the second liquid. While you can use any milk you have on hand, whole milk is rich and I love the way it facilitates a luxurious end result.
Water. Even though I don’t love creamy polenta with all water, I do prefer a combination of water and chicken stock. The combnaiotn of the two ensures the chicken stock doesn’t overpower the delicate nature of the polenta.
Salt. This is SO important. Without layering salt during the cooking process, your polenta will be bland. Using 3/4 teaspoon may seem like a lot at first, but trust me, it needs it.
Butter. Adding a few tablespoons of butter at the end gives the plenty a lovely sheen and great mouthfeel in the final product. And remember, this serves quite a few people, so a little bit of butter goes a long way.
Cheese. We are partial to the nuttiness of parmesan cheese, especially if the dish you’re pairing it with has an Italian flair, but honestly, any cheese will do. If you’re serving our Creamy Poblano Chicken, I’d recommend using a pepper jack. Making French Onion Chicken, throw in some shredded gruyere.
Let’s make Creamy Polenta
Bring the liquids to a simmer. Add the water, milk, and chicken broth to a large heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Stir in the cornmeal. Once the liquid is simmering, add the salt. Stir a few times until it’s dissolved. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal.
Whisk whisk whisk! Continue to simmer the polenta. Whisk every few minutes until it starts to thicken. Continue to whisk frequently util the polenta is thick and creamy, the whole process should take about 20 minutes.
Finish. If your polenta every gets too thick (you don’t ever want it to be able to solidify), just add a bit more milk or chicken broth.
Once it’s thick and creamy, add in the butter and cheese as well as lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Stir until the butter and cheese have melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve!
Is Polenta Good or Bad for You?
I say, it’s good for you. Yes, we do throw in whole milk, a little bit of butter, and cheese, but it’s all in small quantities. Overall cornmeal is low in fat and calories and gluten free so it won’t weigh you down like potatoes or pasta will.
Can you use regular cornmeal?
Yes. However, it won’t have the wonderful texture a good quality cornmeal will. Also when it’s stone ground, it isn’t processed as much.
Can I make this Creamy Polenta Recipe in Advance?
Yes! I would add an extra 1/4 cup of milk, water or chicken stock as it tends to firm up as it cools and sits. When you reheat, if it’s super thick still, add more liquid as needed. Keep in mind, this will dilute the flavor so you may also have to add more salt or cheese to keep up.
If you simply want to make it an hour or two in advance. Make it up until adding the butter and cheese. Cover and cool. When you’re ready to serve, turn the heat up and add any extra liquid if you need it. When it’s hot and creamy, add in the butter and the cheese.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- For extra creaminess, add a splash of heavy cream at the end.
- As mentioned, you can swap out the parmesan for whatever you like. Other options would be pecorino, Romano, gruyere, extra sharp cheddar, provolone, or pepper jack. Brie would even be nice!
- Don’t stop stirring! Polenta isn’t as finicky as risotto, but they do share the same rules. The more your stir, the creamier it will be. It also helps to prevent any lumps from forming or the bottom from burning.
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (optional)
- Heavy bottomed pot
- Add chicken broth, water, and milk to a large heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the salt. Stir. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal.
- Continue to simmer the cornmeal while stirring every few minutes. Be sure to keep up on the stirring so the polenta doesn't stick to the bottom and does't clump up. The process should take about 20 minutes.
- When the polenta is thick and creamy, turn the heat off. Add the butter, cheese, and black pepper. Stir until the butter and cheese have melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the polenta is too thick, add a splash of milk or cream to loosen it up.