In this post, a “chub” is not me in my bikini (no need to see those pics). Nor is it a fish. It refers to the tube, roll or log of ready-made polenta sitting on store shelves and maybe even in your cupboard?
Most people like chubs for their convenience – slice it and reheat. But, the taste of that pre-packaged polenta is closer to a log than what you get when you make it from scratch.
If you’re a chub buyer, you may also be purchasing the ready-made version because you’ve heard that polenta is difficult to prepare. It’s not.
Polenta is simply cornmeal simmered in liquid and stirred. (Read my post about grits v. polenta.) And, to bust a big myth, it does NOT require constant stirring; just a watchful eye and some stirring. It can be prepared simply, mixed with butter and cheese, or made a delicacy with fancy ingredients.
It is commonly eaten in two forms: soft and creamy or hardened and shaped for baking, grilling or frying. In this post, we’re doing the latter. The ingredients are identical in both except that the polenta cooks longer so it thickens when it sets.
Making home-made chubs is easy – simmer polenta, add flavors, let it cool and set it in cyclinder container. That’s it.
Also note that you can freeze polenta – slice in individual portions, wrap and freeze. Take out what you need, when you need and reheat.
Chubs run about $4 for an 18 oz. roll. You can buy a whole bag of polenta for that much and it’ll make at least six (tastier) chubs. By making your chub, you can create entirely new flavors: green chile and cheese, sundried tomato and Parmesan (recipe below), or asiago and basil. Make sure to finely chop ingredients that don’t melt. I’ve included detailed instructions only as a guide as to the process but experimentation is always welcome.
Tidbits on Polenta:
- Before corn made its way to the Old World, Europeans ate porridges similar to polenta that were made of millet, chesnut flour, barley and buckwheat. They were eaten much like polenta, seasoned with milk, cheese and meat.
- When corn first arrived in Europe, it was grown for animal feed. But, between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries corn became a staple to peasants and mountain northern Italians. Southern Italians disparagingly refer to their northern countrymen as “polenta eaters.”
- Around the world, many cultures that had adopted corn as a primary staple in their diet became afflicted with “pellagra” a niacin vitamin deficiency. They did not follow Indigenous culinary tradition by preparing corn with alkaline water (nixtamal), which increases niacin and lysine. In northern Italy, where many subsided solely on polenta, pellagra became wide-spread. Thought to be associated with corn, Italians at one point forbid eating polenta.
Primary Sources: “The Natural History of Maize” by Ruben G. Mendoza; Polenta by Michele Anna Jordan
Home-made Polenta Chubs
Makes 2 Chubs
Stirring: You can, but it is not necessary, to constantly stir your pot; although stirring will be more frequent as the polenta thickens near the end. If you double or increase this recipe, you will need to stir more frequently to help distribute heat and prevent lumping.
Cornmeal Grind: I used coarsely ground Bob’s Red Mill and it took about 40 minutes to cook to proper thickness. If you want to shorten the cook time, use a finer grind cornmeal. Do not try to cook the polenta faster with higher heat, it will absorb the water too quickly and require more water, and therefore more cooking.
Molding Shape: You can set the polenta in cylinder containers so that the final product is tubular – ready for slicing, or you can set it on a baking sheet and cut into your desired shape.
4 cups water*
8 sundried tomatoes (about 1/3 cup), chopped finely (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coarsely ground polenta (cornmeal/grits)*
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
*Water/Polenta Ratio: Adjust water if you are using a finer or courser grind. Start with 3 cups water for finer grinds and add accordingly.
- Stir & Simmer: In a medium-size, heavy-bottom pot, add the water, tomatoes, garlic, salt and polenta. Stir with a whisk to incorporate and remove lumps. Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Stir frequently using a spatula or a wooden spoon to scrape the sides and bottom of the pot. Careful, the hot mixture sputters as it cooks. As it thickens, stir more frequently and adjust heat so the polenta slowly simmers (you do not want a rolling boil). Depending on your cornmeal it may take between 10 and 40 minutes. Cook polenta until the ground corn is tender and it pulls away easily from the sides of the pan. The mixture will be like thick mashed potatoes and a wooden spoon will stand upright for 2 seconds. Add the butter, black pepper and cheese. Stir to incorporate until mixture re-thickens. Remove from heat and set aside 10 to 15 minutes.
- Chub Tubes: For cylinders, line 2 (15 oz.) empty, clean cans or drinking glasses with plastic wrap, so that the ends stick out the top. Grease inside plastic wrap with olive oil or melted butter. After polenta has cooled slightly, spoon into the lined containers, patting and smoothing it down. Use the plastic wrap extending out the top to cover. Let it cool for 20 minutes at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.
- Slice Chubs: Unwrap the top of the plastic and use the end of the plastic to pull out the chub. Slice chub into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush with olive oil and reheat under the broiler, on the grill, in a skillet or bake. (If grilling, turn over once.)
- Chub Squared: If you don’t care if your set polenta is round or square, pour it onto a lined and greased baking sheet (8 x 12 for thicker slices or 17 ¼ x 12 ¼ for thinner slices). Cover with a second sheet of greased plastic wrap or parchment paper. Once set and cooled. Slice with a knife into squares or use cookie cutters to cut into other shapes. Brush with olive oil and reheat under the broiler or grill.
Liquid: chicken or vegetable stock, wine, or milk (liquid should be only about half milk)
Added Ingredients: sundried tomatoes, herbs, dried fruit, chiles, hot sauce, sweeteners – honey, maple syrup, agave