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Spicy Sweet Corn Polenta

spicy sweet corn polenta in cast iron pan

As much as I love meat, I recognize that man can’t live on meat alone. (OK, I probably could, but not everyone prefers a diet that consists exclusively of meat.)  A good side dish is key to a successful meal and corn polenta has become one of my favorites. Until a few years ago I had never tried polenta. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. But one night at a steakhouse, our server suggested I order the polenta as a side and I gave it a try despite my skepticism. To my surprise, the polenta was creamy and rich with just the right touch of sweetness. From then on, I was hooked.

I soon started trying to make my own polenta at home. It took a few attempts to make it “mine” but this is now one of my go-to sides for dinner, especially when beef is the main course—which, if you’ve seen my Instagram account, you’ll know is a regular occurrence.

I do this from scratch but, if you want to take a short cut, using pre-cooked polenta and frozen corn will save you a few steps at the beginning of the recipe. I’ve tried it that way and it’s still good, just not as good. If you do opt to try it from scratch, be sure to buy corn grits or coarse cornmeal designed for polenta as opposed to the fine cornmeal more commonly used for baking.

Step-by-step with photos | Download recipe (PDF – 153 K)

Spicy Sweet Corn Polenta

Serves: 8-10 | Prep time: 10 min | Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients

6-8 ears of fresh corn or 16 oz of frozen sweet corn
2 cups of corn grits (polenta)
½ stick of butter
9 oz shredded Parmesan cheese
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Heat the grill to 350 degrees.  You can also use the oven for this but, since I am usually grilling meat to accompany the polenta, I like to grill my corn for extra flavor.
  2. Soak the unhusked ears of corn in water for about 30 minutes and then throw them on the preheated grill, still in their husks.
  3. Roast the corn over indirect heat for 20 minutes.
  4. Allowing the corn to cool slightly, remove the husks and cut the kernels off the cob and set aside.
  5. While the corn is roasting, add 3 cups of chicken stock, 3 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of salt to a large saucepan on the stove.
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil and gradually add 2 cups of polenta and ½ cup of heavy cream.
  7. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  The polenta will have the consistency of thick mashed potatoes when finished.
  8. Add the butter, 5 oz of the shredded Parmesan cheese, and the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream to the polenta. Stir to blend thoroughly.
  9. Add the corn kernels and cayenne pepper and stir until evenly distributed.
  10. Transfer the mixture to a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Broil until cheese is melted and slightly browned.
  11. Garnish with a pinch of cayenne pepper and serve in the cast iron pan.

Step-by-Step

spicy sweet corn polenta ingredients

Step 1: Heat the grill to 350 degrees.  You can also use the oven for this but, since I am usually grilling meat to accompany the polenta, I like to grill my corn for extra flavor.

Step 2: Soak the unhusked ears of corn in water for about 30 minutes and then throw them on the preheated grill, still in their husks. Soaking allows water to get inside the husk which helps steam the corn, adds moisture, and makes removing the husks much easier.

Step 3: Roast the corn over indirect heat for 20 minutes.

cutting grilled corn off the cob

Step 4: Allowing the corn to cool slightly, remove the husks and cut the kernels off the cob and set aside. Feel free to season the corn as well, I will sometimes use a little seasoning salt if I have some, but it’s not a requirement.

Step 5: While the corn is roasting, add 3 cups of chicken stock, 3 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a large saucepan on the stove.

Step 6: Bring the liquid to a boil and gradually add 2 cups of polenta and ½ cup of heavy cream.

corn polenta cooking in pan

Step 7: Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  The polenta will have the consistency of thick mashed potatoes when finished. Note that polenta will burn if you use too much heat or if you don’t stir it often, so keep an eye on it!

adding butter, cheese, and seasonings to cooked polenta

Step 8: Add the butter, 5 oz of the shredded Parmesan cheese, and the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream to the polenta. Stir to blend thoroughly.

Step 9: Add the corn kernels and cayenne pepper and stir until evenly distributed. I use 2 teaspoons of cayenne but you can add more or less depending on your heat preference. Give it a taste at this point and add salt if you like. I generally recommend adding salt near the end to account for individual tastes.

spicy sweet corn polenta with cheese on top in cast iron pan

Step 10: Transfer the mixture to a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Broil until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Step 11: Garnish with a pinch of cayenne pepper and serve in the cast iron pan. If you’re not a fan of the cayenne you can use paprika, you won’t get much flavor from this but it makes an attractive garnish.

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