Polenta is a porridge-like dish made from boiling coarse-ground corn meal. The simple, hearty dish is used in a range of preparations, and can be served creamy, fried or baked. Some companies now offer corn meal labeled specifically as polenta mix, which is intended for use in polenta dishes. Despite the specification, polenta mixes are typically just corn meal that is of the proper grain size for making polenta.
Polenta mixes are made from corn meal. Traditional polenta is made from coarsely ground yellow corn, which yields a yellow, large-grit grain. Most polenta mixes are simply a medium- to coarse-grit yellow corn meal intended for use in recipes that call for polenta. Most polenta mixes do not contain additional ingredients, though some may use salt for flavor.
Polenta mixes may be either traditional or instant. Instant polenta uses corn meal that is partially pre-cooked, which eliminates the need for slow cooking. Traditional polenta takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes to boil down; the coarser the grain, the longer the cooking time. Instant polenta may take as little as one or as many as five minutes, depending on the brand and the grain size. A basic polenta dish requires boiling a liquid such as water, milk or broth. The polenta mix is slowly added and then allowed to simmer until the moisture has been absorbed. Most mixes call for a ratio of about three parts liquid to one part polenta, but follow the individual manufacturer instructions.
Polenta mix can be used to make traditional creamy polenta, as well as serve as a base for dishes in which polenta is one of multiple ingredients. Traditional creamy polenta can be embellished with the addition of shredded cheeses or crumbled meats. In other dishes, it's common to pour the creamy polenta into a pan to cool. The firm polenta can then be cut and baked or fried for a variety of other applications.
Mix Versus Meal
One criticism of polenta mixes is that they tend to be more expensive than buying regular corn meal that is not labelled specifically as polenta mix. Coarse or stone-ground corn meal that is not labelled as a polenta mix can still be used to make polenta. The exception to the swap is if you want to use an instant mix; instant mixes set more quickly than coarse-ground corn meal, so if you swap out your instant mix for regular coarse-ground corn meal, prepare to add about 30 minutes of cooking time to your meal.
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