You’re here! I hope you’re hungry. I have a great treat for you today: cheesy polenta fries. Lord, they’re good!

You can make fried polenta in squares if you like, but cutting them into fries sort of gives you permission to pick them up and eat them with your hands. I highly recommend it.

And if you’re a fan of cheesy appetizers, you may want to try my 3 ingredient mozzarella sticks. Or feel free to browse all my appetizer recipes to find something delicious!

A basket of polenta fries with grated cheese on top and a ramekin of red pepper dipping sauce.

What Are Polenta Fries?

You know how when polenta or grits get cold, they sort of congeal into a solid mass?

This could be called a bad thing, unless you mean for it to happen. And you should mean for it to happen.

Use cold leftover grits to make grits arancini, and use your leftover (or specially made for) polenta to make fries!

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Spread cooked polenta or grits out into a tray and chill. Then you can cut the polenta in any shapes you like, deep fry them, and then eat them with a delicious sauce.

When you cut the chilled polenta into long, thin-ish batons and then fry them up, you have magically made polenta fries.

Fried polenta and polenta fries are pretty much the same thing but in different forms. The fries you can pick up, and the fried polenta you generally eat with a fork.

If it’s up to me, I’m eating mine with my hands, so polenta fries > fried polenta!

Ingredients and Substitutions

Here’s what you’ll need to make cheesy polenta fries and the red pepper sauce to go with them.

For the Fries

All the ingredients needed to make cheesy polenta fries: bacon fat, garlic, salt & pepper, chicken stock, heavy cream, Italian seasoning, polenta, Parmesan cheese, cornstarch, smoked paprika, and oil for frying.
  • bacon fat: Substitute butter if you don’t have bacon fat on hand. The fat adds richness, and in the case of bacon, some smokiness. Fat also carries flavor.
  • garlic: Use minced garlic or garlic paste. This is the only aromatic in the fries, so don’t skimp!
  • salt & pepper: Brings flavors into focus and lends a little bite
  • chicken stock: The main liquid for cooking the polenta. Homemade or store-bought
  • heavy cream: Adds more richness and makes the polenta really creamy
  • Italian seasoning: Use your favorite Italian seasoning blend or use a little dried rosemary, basil, and oregano
  • polenta: coarsely ground corn porridge. Substitute yellow grits if you can’t find polenta.
  • fresh Parmesan: Adds a nutty saltiness to the polenta and also helps it hold together well when chilled before frying.
  • cornstarch: For dredging the fries before frying. Gives them a nice, thin, crispy exterior.
  • smoked paprika: Adds smokiness to the cornstarch, because you should never miss a chance to add flavor
  • vegetable oil: for deep frying. You could also shallow fry your polenta fries in about 1/2″ oil, turning them carefully with a spatula

For the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

All the ingredients for making roasted red pepper sauce: olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper, canned whole tomatoes, roasted red peppers, Italian seasoning, balsamic vinegar, and sugar (optional, if necessary).
  • olive oil: for sauteeing the garlic. Sub avocado oil or even butter, if you prefer
  • garlic: As with the polenta itself, the garlic is really the only aromatic, so use a fair amount. It’s fine to use minced garlic or garlic paste
  • salt & pepper: Brings all the flavors into focus and counteracts any bitterness from the tomatoes and/or peppers. the pepper adds a subtle little sparkle of heat
  • canned whole tomatoes: San Marzano-style tomatoes are your best bet here, but any whole canned tomatoes will do
  • roasted red peppers: packed in water. You can also blister red peppers on a gas stove burner or under the broiler if you prefer. Let the peppers steam for a couple of minutes and then carefully peel off the blistered skin
  • Italian seasoning: or use dried rosemary, oregano, and basil
  • balsamic vinegar: Adds sweetness as well as some acid for zing
  • sugar: If, after tasting the dip, you find it still a little on the murky or bitter side, add a little sugar to balance it

Making the Polenta

Full basket of fried polenta and dipping sauce all covered with grated Parmesan cheese. Microplane grater and a chunk of parmesan are to the side.

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.

  • Heavy cream
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Bacon Fat

Once you make your polenta and chill it overnight, 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 sauce.

How Long Will It Take to Make Cheesy Polenta Fries?

Overhead shot of a basket of cheesy polenta fries with dipping sauce. All are dusted with grated cheese and minced parsley.

Active time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Chill time can be from 4-6 hours or up to 3 days, so once you have made your polenta, the timetable is up to you.

Here’s the rundown:

  1. Cook the polenta. This takes about 30 minutes. Heat up all the liquids and then stream in the dried polenta. Cook and stir until thick and bubbling and creamy.
  2. Chill the polenta. Spread the polenta into a 9×13 pan and smooth the top. Refrigerate until cold. Overnight is good. Or you can make the polenta in the morning and chill until you want to fry in the evening. Give the polenta at least 4-6 hours to chill.
  3. Heat Oil and Fry. Up to 3 days after you make the polenta, you can cut and fry it. Just cut into whatever shapes you want (but steak fry “strips” is great for these fries), dust with seasoned cornstarch, and deep fry. They’ll take about 5 minutes to get nice and golden brown. Fry 4-6 at a time and keep them warm in a low oven as you go.
  4. Make the red pepper sauce The dipping sauce only takes about 5 minutes of active time, and then you let it simmer on the stove until it’s nice and thick and intense. This takes about an hour, and you can make it whenever you like, even letting it simmer while you’re frying your polenta.

Jenni Says: Make sure the polenta is nice and chilled so it holds together well. You don’t want disintegrated polenta fries! Chilling overnight is really best, or at least 8 hours.

Things to Remember About Deep Frying

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 To Serve with Polenta Fries

One cheesy polenta fry being dipped into homemade red pepper ketchup.

As an alternative to the red pepper sauce, I made to go along with these fries, you could also make my spicy ketchup recipe. It is spicy and smoky and Very Very Delicious.

Here are some other delicious and outside-the-box dipping, pouring, and dunking options for you:

  • Perhaps not authentic, but why not try some spicy queso for dipping?
  • Or beer cheese!
  • This is one of my favorite dips: Muhammara, which is a Middle Eastern Walnut and Red Pepper Dip that is incredibly good!
  • How about this incredible Sunday Sauce (Italian Gravy) for dunking or for pouring over? Yum!
  • How about a simple and deeply roasted tomato sauce for dipping?
  • Lose the eggs in this shakshuka recipe and pour the delicious sauce over your 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!


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overhead shot of a basket of polenta fries with dipping sauce

Cheesy Polenta Fries Recipe

Jennifer Field
These cheesy polenta fries are already packed with flavor. Pair them with the intensely tomato-y, red pepper-y dipping sauce, and you have a treat it's hard to stop eating!
5 from 1 vote
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Fridge Time 8 hours
Total Time 9 hours
Course Appetizers
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 servings
Calories 514 kcal


For the Polenta

  • 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

To Finish and Fry the Polenta

  • 1 cup corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • enough neutral vegetable oil or shortening to fill a large pot by 3″

For the Red Pepper Tomato Dipping Sauce

  • 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
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3-4 teaspoons sugar optional/only as needed


To Make the Polenta

  • 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 9×13-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. 

To Finish and Fry the Polenta

  • 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.

For the Red Pepper Tomato Dipping Sauce

  • 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.

Did You Make Any Changes?


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.


Calories: 514kcalCarbohydrates: 56gProtein: 13gSaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 59mgSodium: 611mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4g
Keyword polenta, polenta fries
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!

And that’s it, friends. I really hope you love these cheesy polenta fries. They’re something a little out of the ordinary, but they are super comforting and delicious!

Thanks for spending some time with me today, guys. Take care, and have a lovely day.

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  1. Great post Jenni! It was fun, informative, and inspiring. I especially like how you answer questions before I even ask. I was really wondering how I could mess this up and viola! you pointed it out. Thank you!

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