You’re here! I hope you’re hungry. I have a great treat for you today: cheesy polenta fries. Lord.
Here’s the deal: you can absolutely use store-bought polenta, but stick with me on this one and make your own. Because when you make your own, you can add all the things that will make it flavorful and creamy. And then you can slice it however you want: rounds, cubes, steak fries (like I did), hearts–whatever you like. They get a quick dusting with cornstarch and smoked paprika and then into the deep fryer. Serve them with your favorite marinara for dipping, or use my recipe for red pepper tomato marinara “ketchup.”
I got the idea for these fries….well, I’m not sure where. I just had polenta on the brain. Maybe because I cooked short ribs the other day? Or maybe because I had some yellow grits (polenta by another name) staring at me from the upper shelf of the cabinet.
They used to make grits at the first restaurant I worked in. Huge vats of grits. And not breakfast grits, either. Creamy, crazy-rich grits for their shrimp and grits meal. Nick used to make them in an enormous pot–10 gallons? 15? I’m not sure. All I know is that he poured in quarts of heavy cream and used a bunch of duck fat. Best grits I’ve ever had.
When I got the polenta fries idea, I knew I wanted the polenta to rich like Nick’s, but not so rich that frying them would make them too rich to eat. I am here to report they are not too rich to eat. I know, because I ate at least 12 and lived to tell the tale.
The Long-Suffering Beloved
One would think with as much cooking as I do, The Beloved eats like a king every night, right? Wrong. Yes, I feed him well most of the time, but some days, especially after working on desserts all day, when dinnertime rolls around, all I want is popcorn. And that means that The Beloved must fend for himself.
There are days I feel kind of guilty about this. I mean, I work from home, I don’t have kids to take care of, so what is wrong with me? How come I can’t pull off a quick dinner even after cooking or baking all day?
Because sometimes I’m tired.
As much as I love The Beloved, I also know he is perfectly capable of occasionally scrounging a dinner for himself. We always have leftovers of one sort or another. And there’s always cheese lying around, so there you go.
Seriously, I have had some pangs of guilt over having popcorn for dinner, and that’s why I’ve usually reserved that delicious, delicious treat for when he is out of town or at a meeting. Now I realize I need to listen to body, trust his ability to grab a plate and some food for himself, and do what I need to do for me. So that the next day I can cook something amazing for dinner for both of us.
What does all of this have to do with cheesy polenta fries?
The night I decided to make the polenta for the fries, the poor man was left to his own devices for dinner. We both survived. And last night, we split a basket of cheesy polenta fries. Harmony.
Husbands are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. Occasionally foraging for dinner in the deep recesses of the fridge builds character. Plus, we are allowed to take care of ourselves when we need to.
How Long Will It Take to Make Cheesy Polenta Fries?
Starting from scratch, expect it to take about 30 minutes to cook the polenta. Then you can go watch Netflix or grab a book, because the polenta needs time to chill in the fridge. The next day, or whenever you’re ready to make cheesy polenta fries–I’d say up to 4-5 days later–just heat up 3″ of oil in a big old pot, cut the polenta in whatever shapes you want, dust them with seasoned cornstarch, and then into the drink they go. It’ll take about 5 minutes or so for them to get crispy and golden brown, Initially, these guys sink, and then eventually they rise to the surface. I found to get the color I wanted, they still needed a minute or two of cooking once they bobbed up. As long as the oil is still bubbling around them, you don’t run the risk of their getting oil-logged and gross. This is what I use to scoop them out of the oil.
The red pepper tomato marinara takes only about 5 minutes to put together and then simmers and reduces quietly on the stove until it’s as thick as you like. I like mine really thick, so I let mine go for about an hour. All it requires is the occasional stir and moderating the temperature so it doesn’t scorch.
Can Anything Go Wrong?
The main thing you want to do is have the oil at the right temperature. Too cool, and the oil will soak into the fries. Too hot, and the outside will cook too quickly and could burn. The sweet spot is at right around 350F. It doesn’t have to be dead-on, especially since the temperature can fluctuate some as you add more food to the pot. I shoot for right around 350F, but nothing awful happens as long as you’re between say 345F and 360F. To make sure I’m staying as close to my target temperature as possible, I use an instant read thermometer. You can also use a deep fry/candy thermometer that clips to the side of your pot. I prefer the instant read because it’s so much more versatile, but deep fry thermometers are accurate and don’t cost an arm and a leg. If you have space in a drawer to store one, they’re nice to have.
What If I Want To Let My Husband Cook with Me?
I think that’s lovely. You can give him the job of spreading the polenta out into an even layer into a 9×13-inch pan to cool. Use an offset spatula. Also, the occasion will help you both decide what shape to make these guys. Poker night? Cut them so they look like steak fries like I did, or you could even cut them into the shapes of suits of playing cards. If you want to serve them as an appetizer course for a dinner party, since knives and forks should be on the table, you could cut them in a large rectangle or triangle/s. And for passed apps at a cocktail party or on a buffet, make smaller cubes and serve them with toothpicks.
If you decide polenta is the awesomest and you want to make it frequently, consider putting this polenta pot on your holiday wish list for a splurge!
Okay, let’s make some cheesy polenta fries with red pepper tomato marinara “ketchup!”
Cheesy Polenta Fries
One thing you should know: you might not want to do more than just taste this polenta before chilling it. Otherwise, you might not have enough to make more than 3 fries. It is smoky, creamy, and delicious! Then again, so are the cheesy polenta fries, so either way, you win!
These cheesy polenta fries are already packed with flavor. Pair them with the intensely tomato-y, red pepper-y dipping sauce or "ketchup," and you have a treat it's hard to stop eating!
- 3 Tablespoons bacon fat (I always save mine in the fridge whenever I fry bacon)
- 3 teaspoons prepared garlic paste
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 5 cups chicken stock homemade or low sodium store-bought
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 2 cups polenta
- 4 oz Parmesan cheese finely grated
- 1 cup corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- enough neutral vegetable oil or shortening to fill a large pot by 3"
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons prepared garlic paste or two cloves garlic, minced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes and their juices
- 1 12 oz jar roasted sweet red peppers drained
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3-4 teaspoons sugar optional/only as needed
Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering.
Add the garlic paste, a heavy pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper, and stir until fragrant.
Pour in the stock, heavy cream, and Italian seasoning. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
Gradually add the polenta while whisking constantly to keep lumps from forming. When it comes back to a boil, reduce heat to a high simmer, and stir occasionally with a long-handled spoon until the polenta is very thick and creamy, about 20-25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Spread the very thick polenta evenly in a 9x13-inch pan. It will make a layer about an inch thick. Spread it in a larger pan, and you'll end up with a thinner layer, so put it in whatever size pan you have that will give you the look you want. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the cornstarch, salt and smoked paprika.
Slice or cut the polenta into whatever shapes you want. In order to make steak fries like I did, slice the "slab" of polenta into 1/3" slices. Turn each slice on its side, and then make a diagonal cut to make 2 steak fries. Continue until you've sliced all the polenta.
Dust each piece thoroughly with the seasoned cornstarch. Set aside.
Heat the oil to 350F. Carefully slide no more than 6-7 fries into the pot at one time, and fry until they float and the outsides are a crispy, golden brown. Use a spider to remove the fries to several thicknesses of paper towels. Sprinkle with a bit of fine salt. Continue frying in batches until you've fried and seasoned all the fries, making sure to maintain the oil temperature right around 350F. Serve hot with red pepper tomato marinara.
Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan.
Add the garlic paste or minced garlic, a heavy pinch of salt and several grindings of black pepper, and cook until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, the drained peppers, the Italian seasoning, and balsamic vinegar.
Using an immersion blender (or in batches in a counter top blender), blend until smooth. Don't strain the sauce--you still want it to have texture, just no big chunks.
Simmer until thick and reduced as much as you like, stirring occasionally and keeping the heat low so the sauce doesn't scorch. I let mine reduce for about an hour.
Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. If the sauce seems a bit sharp, stir in a bit of sugar. Serve warm with the cheesy polenta fries.
Even though the polenta is a solid when you put it into the hot oil, it contains a lot of moisture. Be careful when sliding them into the oil--it will boil pretty vigorously. Make sure to only fill your pot about halfway and use a long-handles spider or skimmer to retrieve your fries once they're done.
If you're dead set against deep frying, you can bake these guys at 400F until crispy. I do encourage you to give the deep frying a shot. If you're unsure about free range frying, use a Fry Daddy if you have one, or take an air fryer for a spin.
And that’s it, friends. Cheesy fried polenta with red pepper tomato marinara ketchup. (Yes, it’s not really ketchup, but I’m tired of typing the quotation marks!) I think you will love them. I know we did!
Thanks for spending some time with me today, guys. Take care, and have a lovely day.
Want more tasty snack foods? Check out my Appetizers category.