Friday, March 16, 2007

Poached Eggs and Polenta (or cornmeal, or grits or....)

It's not often that I think to have eggs for dinner, but when I do, they are almost always a hit. These eggs are served over polenta or cornmeal. But is there a difference between the two?

I find the similarities or differences between cornmeal, grits and polenta to be more than a bit confusing and although some purists would probably argue that there is a difference, they are essentially interchangeable, especially for a dish like this. I sat here and tried to type up an explanation of the differences, but then I confused myself even more, so I will simply refer you here, here and if you like Alton Brown, here. There, now you can go and confuse yourself and then you won't be able to blame me for the confusion. That said, I have started to use stone ground coarse cornmeal for polenta instead of trying to track down those overpriced packages of polenta that are probably pretty much the same thing anyway.........

For this dish from Cooking Light, however, I used the Quaker Oats cornmeal which has been degerminated. See, this is where I get confused - if hominy grits are different from corn grits because they have been degerminated, then wouldn't cornmeal that has been degerminated really be the same thing as hominy grits? So that hominy grits=degerminated cornmeal=Quaker Oats cornmeal? And then polenta=stoneground whole grain cornmeal (either coarse, medium or fine)? See, that's why I'm referring you to the above articles and letting you decide.

Obviously I used yellow cornmeal in place of white, but I think that yellow cornmeal actually works better here in that it provides a nice color contrast to the egg whites. We found that the polenta needed A LOT more salt than the recipe called for and actually, more of everything - it just didn't have that much flavor. I ended up adding a bit more butter, a bit more cheese and a lot more salt. My parmesan cheese was not top quality, so if you can't use a top quality parmesan with lots of flavor, then I recommend using a sharper or smoked cheese that might help kick up the flavor - in fact, I'm not sure that Parmiggiano Reggiano would have been enough - perhaps a sharp or smoked provolone would work best.

The salsa added an interesting dimension for us - we are not accustomed to eating tomatoes with our eggs - and added nice color as well. I prefered to keep the egg and salsa separated, but enjoyed both flavors with the polenta. I would certainly consider making this again, but I would play around with the polenta to get something a little more interesting and would also be inclined to try the this dish with variations in the salsa, such as using roasted red peppers only or maybe a bit of balsamic. In any case, it's a pretty simple meal to throw together and it's made from ingredients that are commonly on hand.


  1. Beautiful blog--I like the look as well as the content! Cooks Illustrated had a great piece about microwaving polenta not too long ago. Good results and very easy, plus no chance of burnt cornmeal crust on the bottom of the pan. The recipe is subscription only, I think, but the gist is mix everything together in a 2 quart Pyrex measuring cup, cover it with plastic wrap, then nuke for 6 minutes on 100% power. Uncover, stir, and continue to microwave until creamy and fully cooked, about 5 to 6 minutes longer.

  2. Jessie & Steve - Thanks! Thanks for the CI recommendation - fortunately I have a subscription so I can go check it out. I've also done polenta in the rice cooker - it's pretty easy but not as fast as the microwave.

  3. Ah, now see I cannot stand polenta. I have tried it so many times, and I always end up tossing it, I just cannot convince myself it's good. However, I adore grits. I loooove a bowl of grits for breakfast, so I would make this recipe, only using grits as the base instead of polenta.

    So there must be a difference. I keep trying polenta because I love grits so.

  4. Anonymous6:12 PM

    It's all ground corn. Grits are usually white, unless they're yellow. Polenta is usually yellow, unless it's white. Ditto plain old cornmeal.

    I mean, how many different ways can you grind corn? Everything else is cooking technique.

  5. Erika - Grits would definitely work very well with this recipe. I think that grits have a smoother consistency.

    Bill - I think there are subtle differences, but nothing that should cause people to turn their noses up at grits and yet hail polenta as a gourmet food with jacked up prices.