'chemical' tasting polenta?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by corgy, Sep 18, 2013.

  1. corgy

    corgy

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    Hello there !

    A couple of weeks ago i got a taste of fried polenta cakes when i was out on a dinner date.
    It was my first time tasting it and i absolutely loved the texture and taste. It was soft and smooth with a nice hint of garlic.
    Last week i came across a bag of polenta in my local supermarket and decided to try this out myself.
    I made the polenta following the instructions, adding 4 times it's volume of water to the polenta and some salt and pepper.
    I brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then i poured it onto a shallow tray and let it cool down and set in the fridge.
    Later that day when the polenta was really firm, i cut it in small strips and tried to fry it in a pan with hot olive oil. The texture was nice, soft on the inside with a nice golden crust, but the taste was more than dissapointing... The polenta had a really chemical, plastic taste to it. It reminded me of food stored in plastic containers that would sometimes almost take on the taste of the plastic.

    Is there any way to fix this? I heard people using a mixture of milk and water in their polenta, or adding parmigiano. Or should i just find a better brand of polenta?

     
     
  2. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    Try it with a rich chicken stock and some good Parmesan. Cornmeal and water have no taste.
     
  3. corgy

    corgy

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    Thanks for the tip ! Yes indeed, it needs far more help than i thought ;)
     
  4. ordo

    ordo

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    Although polenta is well know as a Northern speciallity, in Calabria, South of Italy, they make a  tasty polenta they name Frascatula. This video is in italian but you can see what spices and vegetables they add to the broth: garlic, olive oil, cooked beans, 2 dry whole pepperoni, water, broccoli, season vegetables, ground red pepper, salt, black pepper. Sometimes butter is added and parmesasn for sure. Quality of the polenta is important too. Old times polenta was a 50-60 minutes affair. Hope it helps.

     
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2013
  5. siduri

    siduri

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    Mostly, polenta is just cooked in water and salt. I think if it has a plastic or chemical taste, you definitely DON'T want to solve that by adding flavors to cover it.  Polenta should NEVER taste of chemical or plastic, it should have a nice fresh cornmeal taste. 

    Polenta goes rancid easly and if it's old it can taste bad.  If it's whole grain polenta, then the germ is in it, and if it's not in a vacuum packed container and not expired, it will be bitter. 

    If you fried it with old oil, or too hot oil, it can taste chemical (chemicals are used in some oil production and you can smell it).  In fact, as you described it, what came to mind is the taste of some fried foods either using re-used oil, or oil that got too hot. 
     
  6. chrisbelgium

    chrisbelgium

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    I also believe it's the oil. Using olive oil to fry in isn't always such a good idea; the following may sound weird, but the better quality olive oil you use for frying, the worse it will taste!! Good quality olive oil should not be used for frying, it will leave a very sharp unpleasant and bitter taste. An alternative suggestion; use neutral oil, like sunflower oil.

    You also wrote;
    If your instructions say otherwise, please ignore the following. It sounds as if you added the polenta to cold water and then proceeded. Normally, you would first bring water to a gentle boil, then you sprinkle in the polenta while stirring with a whisk. A trick is to "rain" the polenta slowly in the simmering water from a small plate while whisking continuously instead of putting it in the water all at once. It's all to avoid having lumps in your preparation.

    I like to add some herbs like a little very finely chopped rosemary or thyme to the boiling polenta, a tbsp. of butter at the end, many times also grated parmesan and an absolute must after tasting a bit; s&p... which is many times forgotten, while it makes an incredible difference when seasoned well. Polenta needs to be seasoned well or it will taste very bland.
     
  7. geo87

    geo87

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    I have a rather unhealthy fat oriented version but I promise it tastes far better than water and polenta... I agree with chef bubba. Water + polenta even with seasoning is bland .

    Brunoise onion & garlic, sweat off.. Add 1/2 chicken stock 1/2 cream. Season . Bring to boil. Slowly wisk in polenta until thick. Turn right down as low as possible and cover .cook out polenta until it is less grainy. Here's the real kicker.... At the end stir through brown butter, Parmesan , and some fresh herbs ( I like basil if served with slow roasted tomatoes)
    Then set in a tray . Cool . Portion. seal in pan then oven. Make sure you get good caramelisation.

    The ratios I like are 1 part polenta to 4 parts liquid for very firm polenta .
    1 part polenta to 6 parts liquid for a softer but more fragile polenta .

    Also there are different types of polenta all with different cooking times . Unless it specifies that its a fast ir instant polenta it MUST be cooked out to loose graininess

    It's sounds like you've used the wrong oil for frying... & burnt it . E.v.o.o for salads etc... Veg oil / canola etc for pan frying .
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
  8. siduri

    siduri

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    I like the "bland" or what i would call "subtle" flavor of plain polenta with just butter or butter and cheese.  I think we burn our palates with lots of flavors, even natural ones like herbs, and sometimes lose the subtle pleasure of the thing itself. 

    About the cold or hot water, it's well known, Chris, that putting flour into hot water is guaranteed to make lumps.  If you leave 1/4 of the quantity of the water you're going to use cold, boil the rest, and then mix the dry polenta with that 1/4 cold water, and add the mixture to the boiling water, you can proceed without caution, stir it up a bit, then cover on low heat and just give it a stir every so often.  So many old recipes are, in my opinion, ways of keeping women chained to the kitchen (running individual gnocchi over the fork, stirring polenta for an hour constantly).  Try my way.  You have nothing to lose but your chains!/img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

    P.s. i brought a polenta impasticciata (layered with sauce, cheese, sausages and butter) to a party and a venetian guy (land of polenta) told me that i MUST be venetian because it was perfect.  Aha, i told him, if i told you how i made it you would freak out. 
     
  9. chrisbelgium

    chrisbelgium

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    Siduri, you know you can always yank my chain for new tricks. I will keep your method in mind for my next polenta adventure.

    Meanwhile, it would be so nice of you to post your recipe for your polenta impasticciata, sounds delicious!

    And btw, I like the subtle taste of nicely seasoned polenta too. I always use sort of a semolina polenta, I guess you mean the same thing. Mine is precooked, like most polenta available here, but I always let it cook quite a long time (approx. 40 minutes) to get that grainy feel out.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2013
  10. siduri

    siduri

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    Ok, chris, thanks

    I make a sauce based on sausages: Italian sausages, no fennel, peeled so you use the meat, or else sliced in maybe 1 - 2 cm slices, with skin.  Fry in a heavy saucepan with olive oil or butter or both till browned.  Remove.  Add chopped celery, carrot and onion, cook slowly, covered, till soft.  Put in tomato (whole peeled, chopped, however you like.  I won't say fresh because fresh tomatoes are no good in winter, and you definitely don;t want to eat a heavy polenta dish in summer).  Let it cook slowly, scraping up the browned stuff stuck to the pot.  I kind of like the sausages not to boil in the tomato sauce, so they maintain more of their meatiness, but you can keep them in the pot if you like.  If you used the peeled sausages, which are like hamburger, of course you don';t remove them.  I don't bother, but you could deglaze first with wine. 

    Butter a mold, i often use a souffle mold, but it could be a wide flat, 3-finger-high baking dish  (fingers are universal, otherwise i have to say inches or centimeters)

    Grate parmigiano, grate some other cheese, like even groviera, or use mozzarella, or whatever you like, with the big holes of the grater - or just use parmigiano. 

    Cook the polenta.  Immediately, while it's still hot and hasn;t congealed, make the pasticcio:

    a layer of polenta,

    butter, sauce, cheese,

    another .layer of polenta

    butter, sauce, cheese

    etc, depending on the height. 

    Bake in the oven till it bubbles through from the bottom.  You can make it in advance and refrigerate - then take out, put in cold oven (not to crack the baking dish) and bake slowly till it bubbles out from the bottom. 

    I'm not crazy about it like that, since i do like the taste of polenta.  So for myself i always leave a dish out with just butter and cheese.  If you want a northwestern italian dish (val d'aosta, french influence) use butter and cheese, no sauce, and make sure the cheese is real fontina (the stinky kind).  I think you can do it across the north of italy using local cheeses : taleggio, gorgonzola ecc.  But i prefer parmigiano. 

    It's a really simple dish, without much imagination, but that's the beauty of italian food, you taste the ingredients. 
     
  11. chrisbelgium

    chrisbelgium

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    Can't wait to try that out! Such a nice winter dish. Thanks for posting, Siduri.
     
  12. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    Great dinner idea. Have not made polenta in a while. Have a Ragu cooking now with some chuck, pork shoulder & sweet sausage. Serve over soft polenta finished with brown butter & sage.
    Going to make breaded pork tenderloin to go with it.
     
  13. geo87

    geo87

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    Siduri, good point.
    What brand of polenta do you use?
    The recipe I spoke of is more for a dish that doesn't have too much else going on.... Something like polenta cake , slow roasted tomatoes, asparagus, soft poached egg.
     
  14. siduri

    siduri

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    I use the supermarket brand here in Italy.  In the states we used to use Quaker and it was the quaker cornmeal box that gave the cold/hot water method.  Brilliant and obvious.  I can't taste the difference  - polenta is just cornmeal, no big deal, no aura, nothing particularly italian about it - in fact it comes from the new world, not from italy!  Sometimes i get it here from the special store specializing in whole grains etc, and they sell it in vacuum packages.  That way it takes longer to get rancid.  Otherwise the whole grain type has the germ which quickly goes rancid.  I remember in my young days, going to a health food store (this was the 60s) and getting whole grain cormneal and made corn muffins and they were bitter!  ack! and it was, i now know, the rancidity of the germ. 

    The brands in italy are different brands than in the states, but in my experience, cornmeal is cornmeal.  no magic.  You can get the coarse ground (which i think is more common in the u.s. and is more northern italy, called "bramato" here), or the fine ground (like yellow flour) which is common in the south of italy.  I prefer the coarse, but some prefer the fine.   
     
  15. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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  16. siduri

    siduri

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    Koukou, let's just face it, you don't like polenta.  Grits ARE polenta, so you just don't like it.  Polenta is to koukouvagia as vegetables boiled in tomato is to siduri /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif . 

    Anyway, why SHOULD you like it?  that's what likes and dislikes are about. 
     
  17. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I feel like I should like it because I like the texture, I like corn and butter and cheese and I love carbs. It doesn't make sense that I dot like it lol.
     
  18. siduri

    siduri

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    /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif   But it doesn;t taste like corn anyway, it tastes like cornmeal - it's the difference between sweet fresh peas and dried peas, might as well be anotehr vegetable!