I’ve always being suspicious of polenta. It reminds me of semolina, and if you’re an English child of a certain age, then you’ll have a deep rooted hatred of semolina.

Polenta is basically just coarse corn flour (as in flour from corn, as opposed to cornflour) and is an Italian stable, where it is often served in its unmodified “gruel” form, or in slices from a huge slab. None of this, for me, is truly that appealing.

However, it transpires that it can be made into something far more interesting; polenta chips. Anything that is deep-fried automatically deserves at least a closer look…… so this weekend, I have been experimenting.

The following will make enough of the basic recipe for an aperitif for two people, but can easily be scaled up.

  • 75g Polenta (plus more for coating)
  • 300ml boiling water
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • teaspoon of butter
  • oil for deep frying (preferably in an electric fryer)

Once you’ve weighed your polenta, add into it a good grinding of sea salt and black pepper. Add the boiling water to a pan and keep it on a rolling boil. Slowly add the polenta whilst whisking constantly, and once it is all added, without stopping whisking, add the butter. Keep whisking until you have a thick, porridge like mix, then pour it onto a non-stick sheet and leave to cool (20 minutes should do it).

Lay a non stick sheet on your work surface, dump the polenta on top, then put another sheet over the top and press it down. The idea is to form a centimetre thick slab – a rolling pin may be necessary towards the end. Don’t worry about it being mishapen – that’s part of this dish’s rustic charm and raggedy edges make for crispy edges.

Slice the slab into bite size blocks – you can go long and go for proper chips, but I prefer to have rectangles, in either case you are aiming for about one and a half centimetres wide, and length as desired.

Once complete, toss them in small batches in some polenta flour and fry for around 3-4 minutes at 180 degrees centrigrade. Drain on kitchen paper before serving. Don’t overfill your frying basket – this is an important lesson for deep frying anything. The chips need to bathe in the hot oil, not be pressed up against each other, or they’ll be soggy.

The less boring version

Now you know how to make the basic chip, you can tart it up. You can pretty much add any herbs and spices to the polenta flour before you boil it, and add anything wetter (or cheese) with the butter that you desire. In my case, I like to add a teaspoon of dried rosemary with the salt and pepper and add 20g of grated parmesan with the butter. Once deep fried, I like to dust in a Garlic and Rosemary seasoning (I cheat with this pre-made one from Sainsbury’s)

My next experiment will be to use these in place of potatoes with certain dishes; I once did tartiflette croquettes and can see how polenta would work too in place of mashed potato – in fact, I think that’s the bottom line with this stuff – a potato substitute. Should be a fun few weeks in the Quantum Leaps kitchen!

Polenta Chips
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