Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Slow Cooker Buttermilk Polenta - or is it grits? You Decide

When I was a kid, grits were the tiny rocks at the bottom of the bird cage. I was quite surprised when I heard that some people actually ate grits.

Really? Rocks???? Wouldn't that be bad for your teeth?

But then I found out the edible grits weren't boiled rocks, and that in fact, they were made from corn.

Once I found out that I wasn't going to be eating rocks, I was willing to try grits, which led me to polenta. They're closely related. For some recipes, it might be the end use that tells you whether you've got grits or polenta. If it's Italian, it's polenta. If it's Southern American, it's grits.

While the corn used for grits in Italy for polenta is different from the corn used for American grits, the packages of coarsely ground corn I normally buy are labeled for use as either grits or corn. And I'm fine with that. While I'd love to have regular access to the special Italian corn, I'm pretty happy with the grits/polenta that I buy at the grocery store.

What something is labeled doesn't matter to me as much as what it tastes like, and I like that grocery store stuff. It's tasty, it had nice texture, and you can dress it up any way you like.

This time around, I decided to make a somewhat simple version of polenta, made even more simple by cooking them in my slow cooker. The beauty of using a slow cooker is that you don't need to worry about stirring, so you can set it and forget it for a while.

The downside to using a slow cooker is that they don't heat identically. Some cook at hotter temperatures than others. So the first time you make grits, you may need to adjust the cooking time.

To add a little tang to the polenta, I used buttermilk - but no cheese. And to add some savory flavor, I used Better than Bouillon chicken-flavored base. While I usually have home made soup stock in the freezer, I also keep Better than Bouillon products on hand for the times when I need just a little extra flavor. The great thing is that you get that flavor before you end up with too much salt.

Slow Cooker Buttermilk Polenta

1 cup polenta
4 cups cold water
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon chicken flavor
1 cup buttermilk

Put the polenta in your slow cooker and add the water while stirring. Add the butter and Better than Bouillon. Turn the slow cooker to high and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until liquid is gone (but before it starts "frying").

Add the buttermilk and stir to combine. Turn the slow cooker to low and cook for another 30-60 minutes, until the polenta is smooth and creamy, but not soupy.

Serve hot.

You can serve it as a side dish next to just about anything, but lately I've been eating it topped with a chunky tomato sauce.