The Corniest Polenta with a Lime, Rosemary, and Cashew Sauce

The Corniest Polenta with a Lime, Rosemary, and Cashew Sauce
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polenta with lime cashew sauce
Deconstructed corn-on-the-cob with lime.

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.

The Corniest Polenta with a Lime, Rosemary, and Cashew Sauce

Yield: 2 servings, plus leftovers

The Corniest Polenta with a Lime, Rosemary, and Cashew Sauce


    For the polenta
  • olive oil, for greasing
  • 3-4 corn cobs, kernels removed and used for another purpose
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs corn butter or unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For the lime sauce
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs minced white onion
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • leaves from 2-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil, for frying

Abbreviated Instructions

For the polenta

Lightly oil a 9x13 inch baking pan, set aside.

Roughly chop corn cobs and place in a large saucepan along with bay leaf. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Let cool, and strain out broth.

Add enough water to the corn broth to make 4 cups and place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

While stirring, slowly drizzle in polenta and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stirring all the while, bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring often, until thick enough to stand a spoon upright, about 45 minutes.

Stir in corn butter. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Scrape polenta into prepared pan, cover with waxed paper, and press down, forming a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate until very stiff, at least one hour.

For the lime sauce

Zest and juice lime.

Place olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and cashews, and cook, stirring until onions are tender and cashews are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add lime juice, zest, rosemary, and an equal amount of water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes.

Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth, adding more water as necessary to make a smooth, creamy sauce.

Transfer back to a clean saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm while you fry the polenta.

Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.

Cut one-third of the polenta into six triangles and fry, without disturbing, until crispy, 15 minutes per side.

Plate by spreading a layer of lime sauce on the plate, followed by polenta triangles, and additional sauce.

Ingredient discussion:

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:

Make polenta:

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.

making corn cob stock
Making your own stock isn’t difficult. Basically, simmer the corn cobs for about 45 minutes and strain.

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.

corn cob stock
Add enough water so you have 4 cups of liquid for making the polenta.

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.

adding corn meal for polenta
Once the stock is boiling, slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring so it won’t form lumps.
cooked polenta
You might not believe that polenta will be thick enough to stand a spoon upright, but it will, and that’s how you know it’s done.

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.

adding corn butter
We wanted to add even more corn flavor, so we used some corn butter, instead of unsalted butter.

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.

Once seasoned, press the polenta into an even layer and chill completely.

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.

Make sauce:

cream sauce ingredients
A few onions, a lime, cashews, rosemary, and a bit of effort and you’ll have a creamy sauce.

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.

frying nuts and onions
We thought frying the cashews along with the onions would help bring out their flavor.

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.

simmering cashews
A few minutes of simmering should soften the cashews enough so they can be blended smooth.

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.

cahsew lime sauce
A trip through the blender results in a thick, creamy, sauce.

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.

Fry polenta:

Heat oil. Pour about 1/8 inch of oil into a large heavy skillet and place over medium heat.

frying polenta
Let the polenta fry for a while without moving it; otherwise, it will stick to the pan.

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.

plating polenta
A spread of sauce, place the polenta, more sauce, and the polenta is ready for the table.

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.

Worth the trouble?

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