While the corn butter we made the other day wasn’t a great success as a spread, we did try it in a batch of polenta, to enhance the corn flavor. We also used a corn cob stock for cooking the polenta, in an attempt to make the corn, corn, corniest polenta ever. Perhaps it worked — it was loaded with corn flavor — you can be the judge when you make it.
Now, there are a lot of steps in our version, staring with the leftovers from making corn butter, and you don’t have to do them all, by any means: polenta made with water and regular butter is quite tasty, but the idea of dialing up the flavor to 11 for special occasions (we had ours for our Fourth of July dinner, sort of a deconstructed corn-on-the-cob meal) might just appeal. The idea of corn-on-the-cob for the fourth also led to the idea of a lime sauce, since lime and corn go well together.
Also, note that this is another of the 100% Scratchin’ original series; the recipe doesn’t come from anywhere but us.
If you don’t have corn butter on hand and don’t want to make some, just use unsalted butter. Same goes for the corn cob stock; no stock, use water. We’ve made polenta with water many times and it’s quite good. In case you don’t know what polenta is, it’s essentially a coarsely ground corn meal. Nothing more. While you can use ordinary corn meal for making polenta, we prefer the coarser grind, as it adds a nice texture. Finally, if you don’t have olive oil, any vegetable oil will be fine.
Procedure in detail:
Oil pan. You’ll need a pan to press the polenta into later, and it’ll have to be oiled. We used a 9×13 inch baking pan, but an 8×8 will work too, making thicker polenta cakes. So, select your baking pan, give it a light oiling, and set it aside for now.
Make stock. If you have leftover corn cobs, perhaps from making creamed corn, save the cobs. They make great stock. We used the cobs (and the strained pulp) left over after we made corn butter. Simply place the cobs, a bay leaf, and any other pieces of vegetables that you think would be good, into a large saucepan, cover with water, place over medium heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. We use a clean piece of butter muslin (or sometimes a coffee filter) set in a funnel as our straining system.
Boil stock. Add enough water so you have 4 cups of stock, place it in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cook polenta. Stirring all the while, slowly drizzle in the polenta (corn meal) and 1 teaspoon salt. Stirring continuously so no lumps form, allow everything to come to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring very often, until the polenta is thick enough that you can stand a spoon upright, about 45 minutes.
Add corn butter and season. For that extra blast of corn flavor, stir in corn butter, then taste. Season as needed with salt and pepper.
Shape polenta. Scrape all the polenta into your prepared pan and spread as best you can. Cover with a piece of waxed paper, parchment, or plastic wrap, and press the polenta into an even layer.
Refrigerate. Place polenta in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour. This is important, since we need to cut out pieces of polenta later, and if it isn’t completely cold, it’ll fall apart.
Zest and juice lime. We use a microplane for zesting; it does a great job of cutting off just the green outer part of the peel, but you can zest with a zester, or even a chef’s knife. Once you’ve removed the zest, juice the lime (and strain out the seeds, if any). Set aside.
Fry onions and cashews. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add onions and cashews and fry, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
Add juice and rosemary. Add the lime juice, zest, and rosemary, then add about an equal amount of water. The exact amount won’t matter, as we’ll get that right later when we blend everything. Bring the mixture to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
Blend. Transfer the lime-cashew mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Add water as needed to make a smooth, thick, creamy sauce. While it’s blending, quickly rinse out the saucepan to ensure no bits of rosemary or onion remain (we want a smooth sauce). Once blended smooth, transfer back to the saucepan.
Season. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Place over low heat to keep warm while you fry the polenta cakes.
Heat oil. Pour about 1/8 inch of oil into a large heavy skillet and place over medium heat.
Cut and fry. Cut out pieces of polenta — we used about 1/3 of the pan, which we cut into six triangles for the two of us — and place in the hot oil. Let fry, without moving, until crispy and browned, about 10 to 15 minutes on each side. Leftover polenta freezes well, so don’t feel as if you need to fry all of it.
Plate. Spread a spoonful of sauce across the plate, stack the polenta triangles on top, and spread more sauce over the top.
This polenta is packed with corn flavor. Unlike most polenta, this has a nice sweet taste from the corn butter and corn stock, but, don’t worry; it’s not too sweet. It’s just sweeter and more corn tasting than standard polenta. But, it’s more trouble to make, especially once you add the corn butter. We were really surprised by how creamy the cashew sauce turned out. Once blended, it was like a thick cream sauce — quite limey, too. We would have like just a bit more of the cashew and rosemary flavor, though. For an ordinary dinner, this would only be worth three stars — it does take a while — but for those special days where you want to celebrate, we’d go all out and make it again. Four stars.