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Cheddar polenta makes a cozy, gently elevated side dish or base for a wide variety of meals, from braised short ribs to fried eggs. Here’s how to make it great.

cheddar polenta in a bowl with sausage and peppers
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Why we love this recipe

Creamy, comforting polenta is a real crowd-pleaser. Add a generous tangle of extra-sharp cheddar, and you’ve got sheer perfection.

This recipe:

  • Has just the right texture — thick but not too thick, rich but not too rich
  • Uses chicken or vegetable broth for added flavor
  • Is flexible — you can easily swap in or add flavors of your choice
  • Can be made with any grind of yellow cornmeal

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • You’ll begin with yellow cornmeal. Traditionally, polenta is made with coarsely ground cornmeal. If you buy cornmeal labeled “polenta” in a U.S. supermarket, it’s likely to be coarsely ground. That said, you can make this recipe with any good-quality yellow cornmeal, regardless of grind. The cooking time and final consistency will vary a bit, but that’s fine.
  • Use a good, lower-sodium chicken broth or, to keep things vegetarian, vegetable broth.  Imagine No Chicken Broth is my favorite boxed veggie broth by far, since it somehow magically has the flavor profile of a good chicken stock rather than being weirdly red and tasting tinny or sweet, as some other vegetable broths can do.
  • Extra-sharp cheddar melts well but still packs a super-savory, creamy punch. Shred it on the large holes of a box grater.
  • Here and virtually everywhere, I start with a cultured, salted butter from grass-fed cows. This sounds fancy but doesn’t have to be. Kerrygold, for example, is sold in most supermarkets at a reasonable price.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a dreamy batch of cheddar polenta. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. Bring the broth to a boil and add the salt.
  2. Whisk in the polenta. Keep whisking for a couple of minutes, until it begins to thicken.
  3. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring every five minutes or so, until soft and tender.
  4. Off the heat, stir in the cheddar, butter, and pepper. That’s it!

Expert tips and FAQs

What should I serve it with?

Cheddar polenta makes a great pairing for so many dishes, from breakfast to dinner. Here are a few ideas to get you started. In the photos I’ve shown it with some simply cooked Italian sausages and peppers and onions. It’s a perfect match for braised short ribs. And try it topped with a couple of fried or poached eggs.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

If you want soft, creamy polenta that flows a bit, I recommend making this recipe shortly before serving. Leftovers will firm up a little, but they’re fabulous. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to a year, and reheat in the microwave. You can always whisk in a bit of additional liquid when reheating if you like.

More favorite creamy side dishes

cheddar polenta in a bowl with sausage and peppers

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cheddar polenta in a bowl with sausage and peppers
4.80 from 5 votes

Cheddar Polenta

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Cheddar polenta makes a cozy, gently elevated side dish or base for a wide variety of meals, from braised short ribs to fried eggs. Here's how to make it great.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Servings: 4
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Ingredients 

  • 4 cups (946 ml) lower-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (156 grams) ground yellow cornmeal
  • 4 ounces (114 grams) extra-sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

  • In a 5-quart pot, bring the broth to a boil.
  • Pour in salt and then cornmeal, whisking frequently for a couple of minutes as the polenta begins to thicken.
  • Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover pot.
  • Cook for about 40 minutes, depending on the coarseness of the grind, whisking or stirring every five minutes or so. When ready, cornmeal will be soft and swollen with liquid, and not at all gritty.
  • Off the heat, stir in the cheddar, butter, and pepper.

Notes

  1. Traditionally, polenta is made with coarsely ground cornmeal. If you buy cornmeal labeled "polenta" in a U.S. supermarket, it's likely to be coarsely ground. That said, you can make this recipe with any good-quality yellow cornmeal, regardless of grind. The cooking time and final consistency will vary a bit, but that's fine.
  2. For soft, creamy polenta that flows a bit, I recommend making this recipe shortly before serving. Leftovers will firm up a little, but they're fabulous. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to a year, and reheat in the microwave. You can always whisk in a bit of additional liquid when reheating if you like.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 415kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 29g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 11g, Cholesterol: 108mg, Sodium: 687mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sides
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.80 from 5 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t do Instagram or twits, so here is my comment.
    I did make your polenta last night with slight variations. Because it was what I had on hand, I used extra sharp white Vermont cheddar.
    I made a ragout of sorts with shallots, black olives, fresh mushrooms, rehydrated mixed dried mushooms, the tiny bit of red pepper I salvaged, garlic, Italian spice blend. S&P, and rough chopped fresh to.atos (at the end).
    I decided to stir in a nice amount of the finely chopped rehydrated dry mushooms into the polenta about 2/3 of the way through cooking.
    It was perfect and got rave reviews.
    I topped the polenta with the ragout and sliced sausage as you have in your picture.
    This recipe is a keeper, and I’m already thinking of more variations.