Polenta Corn Cakes with Mushroom Sauce

Polenta Corn Cakes with Mushroom Sauce
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polenta corn cakes with mushroom sauce
Worth the full five stars!

We happened to have a couple of ears of corn sitting in the refrigerator that we didn’t quite know what to do with. Sure, we could have eaten them as corn on the cob, it’s the easiest and quite tasty, but we thought we’d go for something a little different. We started to think about what we could do with the corn, and we noticed a half a box of mushrooms, so we thought that we should use up those, too.

Then it hit us: we also had some coarse ground corn meal sitting in the cupboard. Was it enough, we wondered? Yes, exactly one cup left, which is what we need to make polenta similar to the Grilled Basil Polenta we’ve made before. So, we could add the corn kernels to the polenta, and that would be good, right? What about the mushrooms, though? A mushroom gravy? No, a bit too pedestrian. What if we made a mushroom sauce like that in Pappardelle with Mushrooms? Ah, that’s perfect. Let’s get scratchin’ and bust out that dinner!

Serves 3-4

Polenta Corn Cakes with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Polenta Corn Cakes with Wild Mushroom Sauce


    For the polenta cakes
  • 1 cup coarse ground corn meal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • Kernels from two ears corn
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • For the mushroom sauce
  • Canola oil
  • 4 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
  • 1 ounce dried shitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
  • 1 cup mushroom broth, reserved from rehydrating mushrooms
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar

Abbreviated Instructions

For the polenta cakes

Butter or grease six 3-inch tart rings. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Bring water to a boil. While whisking continuously, slowly add corn meal to boiling water, reduce heat to medium, bring back to a boil. Whisk 5 minutes while boiling, then switch to a wooden spoon.

Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring continuously, until poleta pulls away from the sides of the pan and the wooden spoon can stand upright unaided. Remove from heat.

Stir in corn kernals, Parmesan cheese, and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among the six tart rings, pressing down to smooth the top. Refrigerate.

For the mushroom sauce

Heat oil In a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add enough mushrooms to make one layer, fry for about 2-3 minutes, then stir to fry the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with remaining mushrooms. Set aside.

Fry onions for 3 to 4 minutes or until starting to soften. Add reserved broth and bring to a boil. Stir in butter, and, when melted, add mushrooms and heat through. Add vinegar, and salt and pepper if needed. Reduce heat to keep warm.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat until very hot. Place polenta cakes into the oil, and fry for 5 to 10 minutes on a side, or until slightly crispy on each side.

Plate polenta cakes and top with mushrooms and sauce.


Ingredient discussion:

We suggest using dried mushrooms, mainly because they have much, much, more flavor than those white mushrooms in a box. Plus, rehydrating them provides the broth that you’ll need for the sauce. As far as corn meal goes, try to find a coarse grind, preferably corn meal that’s been stone ground. It makes for a lighter polenta cake. Butter, of course, is unsalted. You don’t let people sneak into your house to salt your food, so why let them add it at the factory? And, of course, Parmesan cheese does not come in green shaker boxes.

Procedure in detail:

There’s a lot here, but it’s basically three things: make polenta and shape into cakes, make the sauce, and then fry the cakes to complete the dinner. Take them one at a time and it’ll be fine. Let’s start with the polenta cakes.

mise en place
For many dishes, we like to get everything prepped beforehand. That way, we can work fast, and know we have all the ingredients.

Mise en place. It’s not really necessary for just the poleta, except for cutting the corn kernels off the cob, but we did everything anyway. It can be frustrating to be working on a recipe and then have to root through the cupboard for some ingredient. So, cut the corn kernels off the cobs, grease or butter six 3-inch tart rings, place them on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment, and measure out everything else. If you don’t have the tart rings, don’t worry, just grease an 8×8-inch baking pan and use that to shape the polenta.

making polenta
Slowly pour in the corn meal while whisking. All that whisking is to prevent lumps. No one likes lumps.

Make polenta. This is a real arm workout, and we can see why some people are tempted to just buy the chubs of polenta — we did once, it tastes just okay — so get ready. Bring the water to a boil, then, while whisking all the time, pour in the corn meal. Reduce the heat to medium and whisk until it comes back to a boil. Then whisk for another five minutes. Now switch to a wooden spoon and stir until the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan and the spoon can stand upright, about 45 to 55 minutes.

Once the polenta is cooked, stir in the corn, cheese, and butter. Then taste and season.

Add corn, cheese, and butter. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the corn kernels, Parmesan cheese, and butter. Keep stirring until all the butter is melted in, then give it a taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

making cakes
We found that a piece of plastic wrap made it pretty easy to press the polenta into place.

Make cakes. Divide the polenta among the tart rings, pressing it down to smooth the top. It helps to use a piece of plastic wrap so the polenta doesn’t stick to you. If you’re using a baking pan, do the same thing to make one big polenta cake.

Refrigerate. There, the polenta corn cakes are done. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Okay, yes, the stirring was definitely a workout, but it was good for you; plus, you’re making something pretty tasty.

Now we need to work on the mushroom sauce, so let’s get scratchin’.

mise en place
It’s amazing how good this sauce is, with so few ingredients. Nope, that’s not a Guinness, it’s mushroom broth (don’t drink it by mistake!).

Mise en place. Yes, there’s a bit more to do here. First, you need to rehydrate the mushrooms in about a cup of boiling water. Let them steep for about 30 minutes, then drain, reserving about a cup of the liquid. Rinse the mushrooms to remove grit, then slice and chop. Since you’ve been chopping anyway, might as well chop the onion, too. There, not so bad, and everything is good to go.

frying mushrooms
Frying the mushrooms in batches allows the outsides to crisp up just a bit, sealing in that flavor.

Fry mushrooms. Heat canola oil over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add enough mushrooms to make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Fry for about 2 to 4 minutes, then stir so the other side can fry for 2 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl, and repeat with remaining mushrooms.

Fry onion. Drop the onion pieces into the pan and let them fry for about 4 to 5 minutes or until they begin to get soft.

making mushroom sauce
The butter will actually emulsify a bit into the sauce. Once it does, add the cooked mushrooms and vinegar.

Add broth and butter. Pour in the reserved mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and add butter. Continue to stir and simmer until all the butter is melted and incorporated.

Add mushrooms and season. Return the mushrooms to the pan, stir, then add the vinegar. Taste and add a bit more vinegar or salt and pepper as needed. Reduce heat even lower just to keep the mushrooms warm.

frying polenta cakes
We could only fit four cakes into our frying pan, so we had to fry the cakes in two batches.

Fry polenta cakes. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat several tablespoons of canola oil over medium heat until hot. Add polenta cakes and fry for 5 to 10 minutes on a side, or until slightly crispy and a few black spots form. Naturally, if you used a baking pan to shape the polenta, cut them into manageable-sized squares before frying.

polenta corn cakes with mushroom sauce
Worth the full five stars!

Serve. Place cakes on a plate and top with mushroom sauce. Garnish with more Parmesan cheese, if desired.

This was a really, really tasty meal. Partly because the polenta was so good, but also because of all the mushroom flavor in the sauce. Using dried mushrooms, especially porcini and shitake, in a sauce is like adding a flavor bomb to it. It will be bursting with all that delicious mushroom flavor. It was tricky to fry up all the polenta cakes in a single skillet, and we thought about firing up the grill but declined — that would have been an even better way to crisp up the polenta. Other than that, we can’t think of a way to improve this meal, so it gets the Holy Grail of five stars.

Worth the trouble?

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