The Polenta Coup

This meal was one of those bottom-of-the-barrel, back-of-the-pantry, end-of-the-month recipes, though it tasted so good you never would have guessed. I wanted to use up some boneless pork loin chops that had been in the freezer for quite some time and some Fuji apples that were past their prime. One of our favorite savory uses for apples is the creamy apple compote that I usually serve with noodles and bratwurst, so I decided to try seasoning the pork chops to taste like brats. We’re all out of potatoes and most of our pasta, and just had rice with dinner a day or two ago, so for the starch, I took a big chance and dug up a bag of polenta.

Jeremy is generally violently opposed to polenta and would have exercised his veto if I mentioned it in advance, so I sneakily got it started first. I’m not a huge polenta fan either, and it smelled rather stale, so I made sure to enrich it with all sorts of goodness that would compliment the pork and apples: cream, butter, chicken stock, Parmesan and cream cheese. The finished meal was decadent—sweet, savory, tangy and creamy at once—and we all loved it. Even Jeremy admitted it was the best polenta he had ever eaten, and proceeded to clean his plate, so now I’ve got another option in my arsenal. According to my cookbooks, the keys to great polenta are fresh stoneground cornmeal, a 5:1 ratio of liquid to polenta, and at least an hour’s advance preparation to ensure that the grains cook through and break down into creamy goodness, so maybe I’ll try a less fatty version if I ever get some fresh polenta.

Pork Chops with Apple Compote and Creamy Polenta

The “bratwurst” seasoning I used on the pork chops was an amalgamation of several recipes I saw. I didn’t measure exactly, but the flavor seemed pretty authentic. I’ve used a variety of apples in making the compote; Fuji and Golden Delicious are great options that hold up in the skillet.

Bratwurst Seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper

Creamy Apple Compote
2 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered from root to stem, sliced
2 firm apples, such as Fuji or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1 C dry white
2/3 C heavy cream
1 T packed brown sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar

3-4 boneless loin pork chops (or bratwurst!)

Combine butter and oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet, and warm over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Add onion, apples, bay leaf, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes, until apples and onions begin to brown a bit. Add the wine, cover, and simmer gently until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and briskly simmer until the wine is reduced by about half, 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the pork chops (or brats). Place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, and let it get nice and hot, with a splash of oil. Season the pork chops thoroughly with the bratwurst seasoning on both sides, and add to the pan. Cook until they are well-browned on one side, about 5 minutes; then flip them over, turn heat down slightly, and cover. Continue to cook until they reach an internal temperature of of 140-150F. (If you are using brats, heat the pan with a splash of oil, and add the bratwurst. Cover the pan and cook, flipping the brats several times, until they are evenly browned and cooked through.)

While the meat cooks, finish the apple compote. Once the wine has reduced, stir in the cream, brown sugar, and cider vinegar. Briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Serve the compote alongside the meat, and accompany with noodles, spaetle, or polenta.

Source: Adapted from Gourmet, via Orangette.

Emeril’s Creamy Polenta

Salt, to taste
5 C water, or combination of water and chicken stock
1/4 C heavy cream
2 T butter or olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 C stone-ground yellow cornmeal
4 oz cream cheese or mascarpone, at room temperature
Milk or water, if needed
1/2 C finely grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy saucepan, bring 5 cups of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the butter, cream, salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, pour the cornmeal into the water in a steady stream until all is combined. Continue to whisk until you are sure there are no lumps of unincorporated cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes, uncovering frequently to stir.

Stir the mixture until thick and creamy, with no taste of rawness, an additional 20 minutes or so. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add the Parmesan and cream cheese and serve. Serves 6.

Source: Slightly adapted from Planet Green.

Update 5/23/10: We had a ton of leftover polenta, so I poured it into a saran-wrap lined casserole dish, covered it, and let it set up in the fridge overnight. This morning I cut out some squares and fried them up in butter, along with some basted eggs, for breakfast. Basted eggs are just fried eggs, cooked over medium heat covered with about 2 tablespoons of water; once the yolks are covered with a white film, I remove the cover and let any remaining water boil off. The water cooks the eggs gently so that they half-fry and half-poach, and I have found it to be, somewhat ironically, the most reliable method for getting over-medium eggs (half-cooked yolks, not totally runny or solid). I’ve tried frying polenta squares several times before, and have never yet achieved a really crunchy outer crust. Whether this was because my polenta was enriched, because I didn’t use high enough heat, or something else, I’m not sure—turning the heat much above medium caused scalding hot bits of polenta to pop all over the stovetop, which was less than ideal. Should I be dredging it in flour or breadcrumbs first? Or maybe baking it in the oven? I’ve still got 2/3ds of a pan of polenta to experiment with, so I’ll keep at it.

Update 5/25/10: I gave it another shot, this time lightly dredging the polenta squares in flour before I fried. This gave me a much better exterior color and crunch, so I’ll likely do this in the future. I served it with turkey sausage and drizzled with maple syrup.

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