Originally from July 2014 on my old blog
There are certain recipes that you just can’t go wrong with. Cheesy, Parmesan-laced polenta, deep fried until it’s crispy on the outside but still creamy on the inside, then topped off with rosemary (which seems to make everything better) and salt… Basically, you almost have to go out of your way to mess these up.
But, somehow I managed to. Not thinking, I salted the polenta cooking water the same way you would salt pasta cooking water, (very, very heavily, because pasta only absorbs a small fraction of its cooking water) completely forgetting that polenta absorbs all of its cooking water. You know how it goes from here: while these polenta fries had perfect texture and consistency, they were too salty to even eat more than a few. We all make mistakes, right?
Besides my little slip up, this recipe is pretty simple to make and, when made with a reasonable amount of salt, are the perfect appetizer, snack, or side dish.
- 9 ounces polenta, plus a couple extra handfuls for dusting (uncooked; not the cooked logs, you’re looking for the dry kind that is the same consistency as cornmeal). The regular kind and instant are both fine, whichever you prefer/can find.
- 6 cups of water
- Safflower oil, for deep frying
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- A handful or two of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- A handful or two of chopped fresh rosemary, plus a handful of un-chopped rosemary leaves
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
First, cook the polenta. Boil the six cups of water and salt lightly (don’t make the same mistake I made). Add the polenta. If instant, cook, whisking constantly, for about 4 minutes, maybe 30 seconds longer. If regular, cook for 40 to 45 minutes. When it’s done, it should be very, very thick. When cooking, it will splatter and bubble like crazy; I burned my hand trying to stir a couple times, so be careful; I advise you to wear oven mitts as you stir. When the polenta is cooked, remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Add some ground pepper to taste and stir in.
Take a cookie sheet or pan, spread a tablespoon (give or take) of olive oil on the pan evenly (just so the polenta doesn’t stick). Pour the polenta onto the pan and spread with a spoon until it’s about three-quarters of an inch thick. Let cool and set. When it is set, it should be very firm, but you should still be able to cut it easily.
When cooled and set, cut into pieces. Theoretically, you could use whatever shape you want; the basic fry shape as I did, or you could do circles, squares… for God’s sake, you could whip out the cookie cutters and make snowman-shaped polenta. Dust all the pieces with uncooked polenta; this will give them a good crunch once they’re done frying.
Get a pot for frying: it should be deep, but not too wide. I just used a basic saucepan. Add the safflower oil and turn the burner to medium high heat. If you have a frying thermometer, the oil temperature should b at 350 F before frying. If you do not have one, like me, just test it out by tossing a piece in; if it sizzles and makes a lot of noise (but doesn’t brown quickly) and comes up to the surface after some time, it should be hot enough (if it is perfectly golden brown after 3 or 4 minutes, then the temperature is perfect).
Use a sieve or slotted spoon to drop the pieces of polenta down into the oil. You’re going to have to work in several batches; you don’t want to overcrowd the pan. After 3 or 4 minutes, when they’re golden brown and crispy and delicious looking, lift them out with the slotted spoon or sieve onto a plate lined with paper towels to sit and drain as you fry the rest of the batches.
When ready to serve, salt the fries to taste, add some freshly ground pepper if you’d like, and dust generously with the chopped fresh rosemary. For an extra crunchy and delicious garnish, you can take the un-chopped whole rosemary leaves and drop them in the hot oil to deep fry for about 20 seconds, then scoop out with a slotted spoon or sieve and use to top off the fries.