Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Polenta With Coarse Ragu
I have tried making polenta out of Mexican Masa, and it works fine, but I have come to prefer plain yellow corn meal. I don't know if there's any real difference, but I get the feeling there's more flavor in the yellow corn meal, and the masa seemed grainy when served loose and hot. I love tamales, and I intend to run a similar experiment with them, but it'll probably come out like you'd expect, with masa being better for tamales and yellow corn meal being better for polenta. I tried making polenta from fresh corn in the food processor once and it came out awful, gummy and gluey. I don't mind white hominy grits for breakfast, where meat and eggs provide flavor and body, but grits don't hold their own next to a ragu or other savory companion the way yellow corn does.
Enough already. We get it, you're a goddamn polenta wizard. Boil water and make polenta, what, you want a cookie?
I like to serve polenta with coarse ragu, not a smooth puree or wet sauce. The contrast in texture between the soft polenta and the chunks in the ragu is a big part of its appeal. I've used bacon, ham and steak occasionally, but sausage is my regular choice for meat, though you could make a fine ragu with just vegetables. I get a lot of meat from Paulina Market, and they usually have "torpedos" of sweet Italian sausage that I like a lot. They are about a half pound of fennel sausage formed into ovals. Not having a casing, they are easy to use and one torpedo is the perfect size to make precisely enough ragu for Heather and me. I started the Ragu by pulling lumps of the sausage off the torpedo for browning in a skillet with some olive oil. Once the sausage had a nice color, I added half a sliced onion. Once the onion was tender, I added a couple of fresh plum tomatoes and an apple, all cut into half-inch cubes. I like the flavor of grilled or seared fresh tomatoes, even the hothouse tomatoes we have in the winter, but if used alone they tend to leave the ragu a little dry, so after the tomatoes and apple had caramelized a fair bit, I added a couple of canned San Marzano tomatoes, breaking them open as I did. Once all those ingredients had gotten to know each other. I added three big garlic cloves, sliced, a hunk of ginger, a jalapeno and a serrano pepper, all diced. As an aside, what the fuck happened to jalapenos? They are hardly peppery at all any more. Maybe it's my fault for using them out of season, but it seems like forever since I've had a jalapeno that had any heat to it at all. That's why I'm also using serranos lately. They don't taste like much of anything, but they have a little kick. When all the aromatics had sweated a little, I added a couple glugs of white wine and let the ragu simmer and mellow a little.
I plated the polenta and floated the ragu on top, drizzled it with olive oil and decorated it with some shaved parmigiano and chopped cilantro and mint. Alley news: The mint is coming in like gangbusters in the JSP Memorial alley plot this year, already a shrub the size of a bushel basket. I like polenta soft enough to "catch" or slightly envelop the pieces of the ragu, but not so soft that it's runny and hard to eat with a fork, and this batch came out pretty good. It's easy to add too much dry cornmeal to the water because it takes a couple of minutes to bloom and let you know what its finished consistency will be. It will look impossibly liquid at first when you have it right, but it stabilizes and thickens over the course of about five minutes, and the consistency improves over time, so don't fear letting the polenta sit there going blop blop for as long as it takes to prepare the rest of the meal. You could let it go for an hour if it's wet enough and no harm would come.
Posted by Steve Albini at 3:02 AM