Easy Crispy Fried Polenta Recipe with Parmesan

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This recipe for fried polenta is one of my favorite ways for making these delicious Italian grits. Crunchy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside, this recipe is perfect for an economical breakfast or even as an appetizer.

If you’ve never had polenta fried, you’ve got to try it today!

fried polenta

The Italians have lots of ways of using polenta, but this particular recipe is one of my favorites. Not only is it easy to make, but it repurposes your polenta leftovers into fried polenta and avoids any food waste.

What is Fried Polenta

For my version of fried polenta, I wanted it to be simple to make, have great flavor, and a nice texture that didn’t taste well… gritty. I also didn’t want to do any deep frying so I opted to lightly fry them in a frying pan with just a ¼ cup of olive oil.

Like most fried foods, they can splatter a bit so a splatter screen can come in handy.

If you’re curious, I did use my air fryer on a few of the pieces just to see how they would turn out. I’ll talk more about that later.

Fried polenta can also be made into polenta cakes which really means the fried pieces are in the shape of circles not squares like mine.

what is fried polenta

I formed my polenta in a 9×9″ square pan, so each piece came to 3” x 3”.  I really like the larger size because it was easier to fry and serve.

Don’t cut the polenta too small as I think it would be too cumbersome to flip and turn them around in the frying pan without breaking them apart. Get creative and try cutting them into wide strips or even triangles!

PRO TIP: In my opinion, the secret to making a good fried polenta, is cooking it slightly longer and mixing the parmesan into the polenta itself rather than in the breading like my Italian breaded chicken breasts recipe.

About Polenta

Polenta is often called Italian grits and is pretty much the same thing. Both grits and polenta come from yellow cornmeal, except polenta has a coarser grind.

It’s said to have originated from Naples, which is where my father’s family is from. Fried polenta is believed to be from Northern Italian regions.

coarse polenta in bowl

I never really understood much about polenta growing up since my Italian father would cringe at the mere mention of the name. When I got married, my Italian husband’s mother wasn’t much help either, since she too couldn’t stand the sight of it. It’s the truth!

But there’s a reason why.

Polenta was and is a very economical food product. It was also a staple for many poor families during the war. Both his mother and my father had to eat plain polenta so much in their early years, that they resisted eating it again, even when they were older.

All that to say neither of us have any family recipes to share. It wasn’t until my husband was stationed in the South a long time ago that he heard about grits, and he loved it!

However I decided there has to be another way to eat these besides out of a bowl. Knowing about polenta and it’s close relation to regular grits, I purchased some bags of organic polenta and started having some fun with it.

Equipment Needed

Here are kitchen items needed for this fried polenta recipe.

Ingredients

With fried polenta, you don’t need a lot of seasonings and herbs to make it taste delicious. I use minimal ingredients that provide the flavors I love. Many recipes will use chicken stock and I think this is completely unnecessary for this particular recipe. 

Cooked polenta. I’ll step you through how to make it from scratch.

Grated parmesan cheese. You can substitute with Romano as well.

Salt and black pepper (optional)

Eggs. This is used for dipping the polenta squares into.

Breadcrumbs. I use unseasoned homemade breadcrumbs by pulsing some day-old bread in the blender until I get a coarse texture.

How to Make Fried Polenta Step-by-Step

Now let’s get started with making your fried polenta! For exact measurements use the recipe card at the end of this post.

Make the polenta

This first step is assuming you will need to make your polenta from scratch. If using a polenta tube from the store, skip this and go down to the next step. You can also save some time with instant polenta.

To be fair, I haven’t tried the tubes or instant polenta, so I can’t comment on how it will turn out.

boil polenta

I first make my polenta using a 1:3 1/2 ratio of water to polenta. So one cup of polenta to 3 1/2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan and then slowly add in the polenta, stirring constantly.

PRO TIP: Generally I would use a 1:4 ratio for regular polenta. But since we will be spreading it in a pan, not eating from a bowl, you will want to reduce the water to 3 1/2 cups.

stir polenta

The reason we want to stir constantly, especially in the beginning, is so that the polenta doesn’t get clumpy. I use a whisk as you can see in the picture above.

Bring the polenta back up to boil, while stirring. Once it starts to boil, reduce the temperature immediately to low so that it is at a very low boil. It may splatter a bit, so be careful and partially cover it if you prefer.

Let the polenta cook for approximately 35 minutes, making sure to stir it frequently to avoid clumping. The longer it cooks the creamier and thicker it will be.

When done, remove from heat and give it a good tap on the counter to loosen the polenta from the bottom of the pan.

mix with parmesan cheese

At this point, add in the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Stir until they are well incorporated.

Cool and form the polenta

polenta spread in pan

Pour the hot polenta into your baking pan or sheet pan with edges. Using the backside of a spoon or spatula, pack the polenta down into an even layer.

Then cover with plastic wrap and place in a fridge to chill for at least an hour or even overnight if you’re making it ahead of time.

chill and cut shapes

Once the polenta has chilled, remove from the fridge and using a knife, cut the polenta into squares.

Bread the polenta pieces

polenta breading mixture

Take out two bowls, and in the first bowl beat the eggs. In the second bowl, add the breadcrumbs.

breaded polenta

Take each piece of polenta and gently dip into the beaten eggs and let any excess drip off. Then dip into the breadcrumbs to coat all sides and set aside on a plate. Repeat this process until all the polenta cakes or squares are coated with the breading.

Pan fry the polenta

frying polenta on stove

Next, In a large frying pan, heat ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add the pieces of polenta to the hot oil and fry over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes on each side or until they develop a nice golden-brown crust.

The reason I have the range of 5 to 10 minutes is because you may prefer to pan fry the polenta at a higher temperature which would take less time to cook.

frying sides of polenta
I used these tongs to hold the squares so I could fry them on each side.

PRO TIP: Use a flat spatula to turn the polenta over on front and back, being careful not to break them. You may need to use soft tongs to hold the pieces up to fry each of the smaller sides so the egg gets cooked.

Remove from the pan when ready, and place on a cooling rack positioned on a plate with a paper towel underneath.

Your fried polenta is best served warm.

Air Fried Polenta vs Pan Fried Polenta

air fried polenta

I decided to do an experiment and use my Breville Smart oven air fryer to see how they taste. If you’d interested, you can read my full Breville Smart oven review here.

I used no oil for the air frying but kept all the other ingredients and processes the same.

Once breaded, place the pieces on an air fryer tray and cook at 435F Super Convection for 8-10 minutes.

You can see in the images that the air fryer was pretty quick to start to burn the breadcrumbs. Perhaps I had it a little too high.

pan fry vs air fry

For a lower calorie option, an air fryer does work and will crisp up the breaded sides thanks to the air fryer tray. However, it definitely didn’t provide the golden-brown fried flavor that you get from pan frying.

Overall though, I would try air frying them again, but with a light layer of olive oil brushed on top. I really liked that I didn’t have to turn them over – whether it’s polenta, fried zucchini rounds or something else.

FAQs

What does fried polenta taste like?

Fried polenta tastes like cornmeal with the flavors of the oil and ingredients you used to fry it with. My polenta recipe uses olive oil for frying and it soaks up that wonderful flavor. It also uses parmesan cheese which provides a slightly creamier and more flavorful experience.

Is polenta the same as cornmeal?

Polenta is a coarse stone-ground cornmeal, very similar to grits.

What is fried polenta made of?

Fried polenta is made from using course ground cornmeal that has been seasoned and fried in oil. My recipe uses an egg and breadcrumb mixture to coat the polenta prior to pan frying in olive oil.

Storage and Reheating

Fried polenta can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If you want to save time in the morning for breakfast, try making the polenta and preparing the baking pans the day or night beforehand.

Then remove from the fridge and proceed with the frying instructions.

To reheat your fried polenta, you’re in luck. All you need to do is place them on an oven proof plate or pan and toast them in your toaster oven. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

What Goes Well with Fried Polenta?

Fried polenta can be used as its own dish for breakfast, a side dish, or an appetizer before a main meal. However, if you’re looking for other foods that go well with fried polenta then I recommend any of the following ideas:

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Italian pecan coffee cake is another breakfast you may enjoy!

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I hope you enjoy my recipe for fried polenta. I’d love to hear if you like them and if you made any changes to make them your own –let me know in the comments below!

Fried Polenta

Delicious crunchy fried polenta is a delightful treat!
4.50 from 4 votes
Print Rate
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Chill/Cooling: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 4

Equipment

  • 1 Medium saucepan to make the polenta. Not needed if using tubed polenta.
  • 1 Whisk or large spoon for frequent stirring.
  • 1 9×9 or other stainless steel baking pans. The larger the pan, the thinner the polenta pieces will be.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coarse ground polenta
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan grated cheese
  • dash salt and black pepper
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Cook the polenta

  • Bring water in a medium saucepan to a boil.
    3 1/2 cups water
  • Slowly add in the polenta while stirring constantly with a whisk or long handled spoon.
    1 cup coarse ground polenta
  • Reduce heat to medium-low so the polenta is at a very low boil and cook uncovered for 35 minutes. Make sure to stir every 5 to 10 minutes to prevent clumps and from sticking to the bottom.
  • When done, remove from heat and stir in the cheese, plus salt and pepper.
    1/4 cup Parmesan grated cheese, dash salt and black pepper
  • Pour into an ovenproof baking pan and spread the polenta out creating a smooth even layer using the back of a spoon. Press down to pack it down firmly.
  • Move to the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

Frying the Polenta

  • Once cooled, remove from fridge and use a knife to divide the polenta into squares (or triangles or strips).
  • In a small bowl beat the eggs.
    2 beaten eggs
  • In a second bowl add the breadcrumbs.
    1 cup breadcrumbs
  • Dip each polenta piece into the eggs (let the excess drip off) and then into the breadcrumbs so all sides are coated.
  • Place on a plate until ready to fry them all.
  • In a large saute or frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Gently add the polenta pieces and fry for 5 to 10 minutes on all sides. Adjust timing according to how crispy you want the sides and until a golden-brown crust is achieved.
  • Remember to fry the sides of each square so the egg is cooked and not raw.
  • When done, remove from pan and place on a plate or cooling racks. Best if served warm.

Air Fry Instructions (how I did it with my Breville Smart Oven Pro)

  • Coat the pieces following the instructions above. Preheat the air fryer to 425F Super convection.
  • Place the pieces in the air fryer tray and cook for 10 minutes, making sure it doesn't burn the breadcrumbs.
  • Remove promptly and serve warm.

Notes

  1. The cooking time I noted above includes the time to cook the polenta (35 minutes) plus an hour for chilling in the fridge. 
  2. The ratio for cooking polenta to enjoy right away is 1:4, but when making polenta for the purpose of spreading it such as for fried polenta, then reduce the water to 3 1/2 cups. 
  3. As with all my recipes, feel free to adjust quantities. If you want more cheese add more cheese, if you want seasoned breadcrumbs, use seasoned breadcrumbs! I encourage you to experiment and be creative.
Easy Crispy Fried Polenta Recipe with Parmesan

9 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I love polenta, and I am going to make this recipe. Thank you for all the detailed steps. I shy away from preparing as the last time I made it, it was lumpy. I will keep you posted.
    Thank you for the recipe

  2. I didn’t make it. I just think it’s not that nutritious of a choice. I’m elderly, diabetic, need to lose some weight, so every calorie that goes in should be useful. I’m just trying hard to eat healthy. Looks good, though.

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve been making it for years, and with a little Marinara, and sliced Sausage basil and Reggiano- Parm on top.

  4. Hi Diane, I haven’t tried it that way, so I can’t say for sure. I would think egg would help keep it together, but you never know. Let me know how it turns out if you decide to attempt it without the egg and breadcrumbs. 🙂

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