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In every polenta recipe I have ever seen, the authors insist that the polenta has to be stirred over low heat for half an hour or so before it is thoroughly cooked. When I worked in an Italian restaurant, I would follow this process (commonly making many portions at a time).

However, when making it at home in small portions, I find it tastes just the same if it is whisked over low heat for just enough time for the grain to absorb the liquid.

Why the insistence on cooking small portions (4?) for half an hour?

Please note that I am talking about normal fine grain polenta here, not some sort of 'quick' polenta.

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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It definitely does not need to be stirred continuously. Fairly frequently, yes, to avoid burning on the bottom, but not constantly. Cooking for more or less time has more impact on texture than flavor. Cooked briefly, you get more of a grain-like cream of wheat texture. Cooked long, you get a creamier, smoother result. Both can be good, but the creamy style is more traditional.

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This also explains why, in my pro days, the cooled polenta could be cut into triangles, etc., and fried, grilled, etc., without breaking apart. With the short cook method I have outlined, the pieces fall apart. –  Doug Feb 12 '11 at 6:17
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Cooks Illustrated, in the March 2010 issue, tackled this problem in their usually obsessive fashion. The full recipe is behind their paywall, but they found that a pinch of baking soda added to coarse-ground degerminated cornmeal resulted in a shorter cooking time over low heat (about 30 minutes total), with whisking needed for the first minute, about 5 minutes in, and then right at the end when you add butter and Parmesan. The other things of interest in their recipe is the 5-to-1 water to polenta ratio, and covering the pot during cooking.

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You definitely don't have to. In fact Alton Brown's recipe calls for only stirring 3-4 times during the cooking process -> http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/savory-polenta-recipe/index.html

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I use a double boiler and it cooks for ~1.5 hours with only a few stirs. I got the method from Lynn Rosetto Kasper and it works great. No muss, no fuss. Link: http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/recipes/misc_polenta.html

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