Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Polenta of Ideas to Try

Have you cooked with Polenta before? I only started using it just over a year ago when I first made Polenta chips for my son. I found the recipe in the River Cottage Baby and Toddler cookbook. I really recommend this book if you are looking for some interesting recipes ideas for young children.  The recipe involves mixing the Polenta granules with stock and boiling for 5 minutes until it is a thick pulp. You then add parmesan cheese (polenta on its own is quite bland and so it needs flavour added to it). You spread the thick mush out on a slab (I use a granite tile) and when cool cut into chips and bake until golden. My son loved them.I often make a big batch which I freeze and serve alongside his main meal or for tea with a tomato sauce. 

Polenta originates from Italy and is a coarse yellow cornmeal which can be cooked and served in a variety of ways. Often it is served as a thick mush alongside a ragout or stew instead of pasta or rice. It was originally the food of peasants but nowadays is served in homes and restaurants throughout Italy. You can buy it in supermarkets in dried granule form or prepared slabs.  

Polenta makes a really good coating for chicken and fish. I first tried a recipe where you mix polenta with cajun spice and use it to coat a chicken breast. This is then baked in the oven and served with a red pepper sauce. The polenta really sealed the juices in and this made the chicken very moist with a nice crispy coating. I have also tried coating a salmon fillet with polenta and it was just as tender as the chicken. Salmon has a good flavour so you can use plain polenta. I think polenta makes a good alternative to coating with breadcrumbs and it's good for people who need to avoid wheat.

It's surprising, but polenta is also used in cakes. I made a lighter lemon drizzle cake which was very moist. 

Polenta Crusted Chicken or Salmon
Serves 4

4 skinless chicken breasts or salmon fillets
2 tbsp cajun spice (optional for salmon)
4 tbsp polenta
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
3 peppers cored de-seeded and sliced
pinch of sugar
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
1/4 pint of vegetable stock
150g tin chopped tomatoes
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200C/Gas mark 6
Toss the polenta with the cajun spice (if using) and spread out on a plate
Toss the chicken or salmon in the polenta to coat evenly, pressing with your fingertips to ensure it sticks
Transfer to a roasting tin and cook chicken for 30-35 mins or salmon for 15-20 minutes
Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a small saucepan
Add the onions and peppers,cover with a damp piece of greaseproof paper and put the lid on the pan
Cook gently for 15 minutes
Stir in the garlic, sugar,stock and tomatoes
Cover again and cook for 10 more minutes
Cool slightly then whizz in a blender until smooth
Season with pepper to taste 
Serve with the chicken or salmon, roasted new potatoes and steamed veg

Polenta chips
3-4 adult servings or 7-8 toddler servings

100g polenta
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
25g parmesan finely grated

Put the polenta in a small pan and gradually pour in the stock, whisking all the time so that lumps do not form
Place over a medium heat and bring slowly to the boil, whisking frequently
When it comes to the boil it will start spluttering, let it do so for about 5 minutes, and continue to stir so it doesn't stick to the pan
Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan
Pour onto a large cold plate or marble slab. I like to use a large granite tile
Spread out evenly to about 1.5cm thick and leave to cool
Cut into chips
Place on a  greased baking sheet and cook at 190c/Gas 5 for 20-25 minutes until crisp and golden 

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