A tube of prepared polenta and simple seasonings are the key to these irresistible bites. Serve the quick and easy recipe as an appetizer or side dish and watch them disappear!
Tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, these golden bites are as irresistible as they are versatile.
Based off my Polenta Crouton recipe, the golden nuggets add something so satisfying to a salad—but everyone was always picking them off the baking sheet before they even made it to the salad. It occurred to me that they could (and should!) stand on their own.
A simple shape change was all that was needed to transform the savory bites into a creative spin on the classic French fry.
Serve them in place of rice or potatoes, and with everything from burgers and steak to chicken and fish. For fun factor, we’ve gone full circle and use the fries as a salad topper too.
Conveniently, the prep time is quick, as is the cooking time. I often reach for this spin on the traditional fry when I want to add excitement to an otherwise ordinary dinner or heft to a lighter meal.
Similarly, the savory fries inject fresh appeal as the single new component to a meal of leftovers. (A little leftover spaghetti, grilled chicken, or meatloaf? Make these!)
If you keep a tube of the polenta in your pantry (check the use-by date, because depending on when purchased, it should last for several months), this quick and easy side dish will always be at your disposal.
Haven’t used polenta before? It’s like a dough made with cornmeal and water. When the tube is opened, there will be a little bit of water than drains off, and the texture will be firm but easy to slice.
Think of polenta fries as a fun appetizer when entertaining too. I often whip up a quick Smoked Paprika Aioli for dipping. The ingredient list is short and the flavor is light and fresh with a lovely smokiness. It pairs beautifully with the fries, and I love the color too.
Marinara sauce naturally complements polenta as well, so you could offer that as an alternative dipping sauce. It tends to be drippier – and it does stain – so do beware of that detail.
(Side note and helpful hint: My mom always taught me that the best way to get out food stains is with dish soap, like Dawn. This makes sense, as it’s formulated to break down the proteins and oils in food. As soon after the stain occurs as possible, use a damp cloth with a squirt of the soap to remove the stain. Let some of the dish soap remain until the garment is washed. If the stain isn’t fully gone after laundering, repeat before drying, as the dryer will set the stain. This has worked for countless tough stains over the years. Thanks, Mom!)
How to make evenly shaped fries: 1. The top right photos shows what the polenta will look like in the package. I start by slicing off each end and pulling off the remaining wrapper. There will be some excess water; simply pat dry. 2. Next, I cut the polenta in half cross-wise so I have two shorter logs. Then I slice each half into four planks, as seen in the long photo on the right. 3. Finally, I slice the planks into four sticks.
The cut polenta is first tossed with the olive oil and seasonings. The Parmesan is then evenly sprinkled over top and the fries are tossed again. Helpful hint: Toss gently, as the uncooked polenta is somewhat delicate and can break. Some sticks inevitably will break (you can see a few photos down), and that’s fine. They will still taste great!
Arrange the polenta on the prepared baking sheet or air fryer rack so they aren’t touching.
When done, the polenta fries will be lightly golden on the outside and tender on the inside as opposed to being crunchy throughout. This bit of chewiness is what makes them extra satisfying!
• 1 (16-ounce) tube precooked polenta*
• 1 tablespoon (14ml) olive oil
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt and a few turns of the pepper mill
• ¼ teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
• 2 tablespoons (10g) grated Parmesan cheese
1. For the oven method, preheat the oven to 425℉, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray or grease it. If using an air fryer, you will cook at 400℉, but it need not be preheated or greased.
2. Slice the polenta log in half through the center so you have two shorter tubes. Then cut each half into four even slices. Next, slice each quarter into four sticks. The goal is to end up with “fries” that are each about ½-inch thick. (As long as you’re close, they’ll cook evenly. If I end up with a few that seem too thick but will be too thin if halved, I slice them diagonally. A few crisp edges are fine!) Place the polenta in a large bowl.
3. Gently toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and toss again to evenly coat.
4. Arrange the polenta on the prepared baking sheet or air fryer rack so they aren’t touching. If using the oven, roast for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden and crisp on the outside. Check after 20 minutes. If very brown on the bottom, flip them. If not, there’s no need. (Dark baking sheets will brown more quickly.) If using the air fryer, cook for 15-18 minutes at 400℉. No need to flip. With both methods, the polenta fries should be lightly golden on the outside and tender on the inside as opposed to being crunchy throughout. This bit of chewiness is what makes them extra satisfying!
*New to polenta? Look for a plastic-wrapped tube or log (much like a fatter version of prepared cookie dough) in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Some stores have prepared polenta in the organic refrigerated section, and some have shelf stable polenta. I have purchased 16-ounce packages and 24-ounce packages. If you find the larger size, you can prepare 1½ times the recipe (for example, 1½ tablespoon olive oil, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, etc.) for a total of 6 servings instead of 4. In the case of the larger size, it will likely be too much for a single batch in the air fryer, as one pound fits almost perfectly in my model.
If you have leftovers, cool and store in a covered dish or airtight container. The crisp exterior will fade, but you can “refresh” the fries by placing them in a 325℉ oven for about 10 minutes or a few minutes in the air fryer. They’ll taste as good as new.