With the happily increasing food culture that has been enriching our tables, I feel a post on “polenta” , a side dish and often main plate from northern Italy, could interest many of our hunters and cooks in the U.S.A. Polenta is the staple of every northern Italian kitchen cupboard, and as the Fiocchi Family is from Lecco we eat a lot of it!
Polenta is de facto a heavenly accompaniment to practically all Game.
What is Polenta and how do you prepare it?
Polenta is a dish of finely or coarsly grinded grains that are boiled to be be served as a hot mash, or it may be allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf that can be baked, fried, or grilled. It can substitute potatoes, rice or pasta.
The variety of cereal used is usually yellow maize, but buckwheat, white maize, or mixtures are very often used to enrich the taste. Coarse grinds make a firm, coarse polenta; finer grinds make a creamy, soft polenta. Polenta from buckwheat and other mixtures in its most ancient form with earlier forms of grain mush was eaten since before ancient roman times. When corn was imported from the Americas it was started to be used for polenta too! So we could call the modern variety a dish of both worlds!
There are different types of Polenta
- “Black” Polenta: Flavour is intense and very aromatic, great with roe meat, elk, deer.
- Yellow Polenta: a less intense flavour more bland, it is perfect to match with fattier game meats and recipes that have sauce, like a wild boar stew. But it is good with birds too as it does not cover the flavour.
- Taragna Polenta: my personal favourite, has a flavour that is a mix of the two above, and I feel is great with all game and even by itself with melted cheese!
- White Polenta: The most delicate of all, and usually used as accompaniment to fish recipes.
How do you cook it?
Polenta is extremely easy! Do not be scared by all those very fancy cooking websites! These days you can find a quick to cook polenta that can take 10-15 minutes to cook, though keep in mind traditional polenta that has a richer flavour is better but it can take up to 45 minutes to cook and as we are all often in a rush the quick type will be ok if you have no time.
The perfect ratio for 4 people should be:
500 gr of polenta flour of any type
2 Liters of water
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of salt
Follow the instructions on the box for cooking time, as it may vary, remember that if you decide to use the traditional variety, you will have to constantly stir it with a big wooden spoon or it will get stuck to your pot and removing it is boring.
Remember polenta is NOT a soup, it should have the consistency of a good mash potato, even denser. If when cooking it become too dry and gets stuck to the pot add very little water, the end result should not be runny or liquid.
Once it is done you have different options, you can pour your game stew on it, or put the polenta on the side in each dish as an accompaniment to all your game; you can put the polenta on a baking tray flatten it, wait for it to cool, then cut it in squares and grill it, fry it, sautè it. Or, you can add to the pot of polenta, when you are at 3 minutes from the end of the cooking time, a mix of cheeses like Taleggio, Fontina, Stinky Bishop and butter that you have fried with garlic. It is amazing if you get the yellow one with melted gorgonzola or blue cheese.
I hope you feel adventurous and try this out as a side of your game plates!