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