This recipe was inspired by a question from my friend Corinne. She had tried to replicate a dish she had enjoyed in New Mexico but couldn't get the polenta to brown the way it was done in the original dish. Corinne sent a picture she had taken and asked if I had any idea how they had gotten the polenta to toast.
My guess is that the restaurant where she first ate it had a big flattop grill that the polenta was reheated on. Cook tops run at a fairly high heat, much higher than most home cooks are comfortable working with. Lacking a cook top, what might be done to increase the browning? I had a few suggestions. First, make the polenta thicker, so that less moisture is being cooked out before browning can occur. The excess moisture takes heat way from the pan, and makes the polenta turn mushy rather than browning it.
Second, use a pan which will retain a lot of heat so that when the polenta is added to the pan, it doesn't cool down too much, and third add a small amount of sugar to the polenta.
I had also thought of using a bit of butter along with some oil in the pan to get the added browning from the protein and lactose in butter, but a few tests convinced me that wasn't a good idea, since the milk solids in the butter burned.
Tex-Mex Polenta Stacks (Serves 4)
|1 1/2||C||Polenta or Finely Ground Cornmeal|
|1/2||C||Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese|
|Red Pepper Coulis|
|1||12-fl Oz Jar||Fire Roasted Red Peppers, drained|
|Salt and Peper to taste|
|3||Tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped|
|6||Scallions, white part and tender green, finely chopped, divided|
|2||Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and finely diced, or to taste|
|1||Bell Pepper, seeded and finely chopped|
|3||Tbsp||Chopped Fresh Cilantro|
|1 1/2||Tbsp||Lime Juice, optional|
|Salt and Pepper to taste|
|For the Stacks|
- Lightly grease a sheet pan. Set aside.
- Bring the water, salt and sugar to a boil. While whisking, add the polenta flour a little at a time.
- Reduce heat to medium low and cook polenta, stirring frequently until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. It should be quite thick. If necessary, continue to cook longer until it thickens up.
- Stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese.
- Pour the polenta into the prepared sheet bread pan and spread with an offest spatula. It should spread out to about ⅜" thick (1 cm).
- Let cool until set.
- Meanwhile, make the Red Pepper Coulis by blending the drained peppers until smooth. If necessary, add a bit of water or olive oil to make it thin enough to spread on the plate with a spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Set aside 2 tablespoons of the chopped scallion. Make the salsa by combining the rest of the scallion with all of the other ingredients. Allow to sit 15 - 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight.
- Using a 2½" to 3" circle cutter, cut 12 polenta rounds.
- Have a large plate with paper towel on it ready.
- Using a heavy frying pan, preferably cast iron, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat, just until it starts to smoke. Add as many polenta rounds as will comfortably fit and brown quickly on one side, about 1 - 2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for about another minute or so. Move the fried polenta to the paper towel and continue, adding more oil as needed, until all of the round have been browned.
- Spread 3 tablespoons of the pepper coulis on each of four plates. Put a polenta circle on each plate, and top with 2 - 3 tablespoons of salsa. Repeat with another polenta circle and more salsa, ending with third circle of the fried polenta. Top each with 2 - 3 tablespoons of sour cream and garnish with the reserved chopped scallions.
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