How To Make Traditional, Classic Polenta, The Easy Way

PolentaPhoto: Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.
America's Test Kitchen — a real, 2,500-square-foot test kitchen just outside of Boston — is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Their mission? To develop the absolute best recipes by testing, then testing again (and again…) so you feel confident enough in the kitchen to cook everything from a simple, mid-week meal to an entire Sunday dinner party menu.
Our goal when developing our polenta recipe was to find a simple, foolproof method for fluffy, creamy polenta, achieved without lumps or constant stirring. We found that a heavy-bottomed saucepan on the stove's lowest possible setting (or, in conjunction with a flame tamer) shielded the polenta from cooking too rapidly. Keeping the cover on the pot held in moisture and reduced the risk of scorching the polenta, even when we stirred infrequently.
Basic Polenta
The traditional method for preparing polenta is time-consuming and fraught with danger.
Serves 4 to 6
If you don't have a heavy-bottomed saucepan, you may want to use a flame tamer to manage the heat. A flame tamer can be purchased at most kitchen supply stores, or one can be fashioned from a ring of foil, see related Quick Tip. It's easy to tell whether you need a flame tamer or not. If the polental bubbles or sputters at all after the first 10 minutes, the heat is too high, and you need one. Properly heated polenta will do little more than release wisps of steam. When stirring the polenta, make sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan to ensure even cooking. Use this polenta as the base for any stew or braise, especially osso buco or our Chicken Scarpariello. Cooked leafy greens also make excellent toppings for soft polenta.
6 cups water
Table salt
1 1/2 cups medium-grind cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
Ground black pepper
1. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and pour the cornmeal into the water in a very slow stream from a measuring cup, all the while whisking in a circular motion to prevent lumps.
2. Cover and cook, vigorously stirring the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 10 seconds once every five minutes and making sure to scrape clean the bottom and corners of the pot, until the polenta has lost its raw cornmeal taste and becomes soft and smooth, about 30 minutes. Stir in the butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

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