The evolution of Corn or Maize dates back 9,000 years and has been a staple of the Americas for Centuries. Grits, Cornmeal, Polenta, Mush, Tamales are some different ways of preparing Corn which has been ground into a meal, or course flour. Corn bread, was probably prepared originally more like a tortilla than the moist cake-like bread we are accustom to today. On the other hand, Polenta is prepared in much the same way as it had been centuries ago by pouring hot water that is stirred in slowly and cooked together with the Corn Meal. It turns into a porridge-like consistency which you can either serve it as is, or with a bit of grated cheese. Or, pour this creamy hot Polenta into a sheet pan, let it cool, then cut it into any type of shape. These shapes are delicious either pan fried, or deep fried. Serve Polenta as is for a main dish or it can accompany any meat, fish or vegetable. Either way, corn arguably is one of the most diverse grains not vegetables, in the kitchen.
Polenta with Shrimp
4 1/2 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt
2 cups Corn meal or Polenta
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Pound of Shrimp
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove
1/4 Vidalia Onion
2 slices Ham or Prosciutto
6 Sage leaves
1/2 cup White Wine
One ear of Fresh Corn (shucked)
2 Tablespoons Adobo Sauce*Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoons Grated Aged Gouda
Make the polenta by bringing the salted water to a boil in a heavy sauce pan. Reduce the heat to medium.
Add the corn meal slowly to the pot stirring well until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the corn meal turns smooth and creamy. Approximately 15 min.
Put the 2 Tablespoons of Butter into the creamy Polenta and stir well until the Butter has fully melted. Set aside.
Peel and devein the Shrimp, rinse in cold water. Set aside.
Mince the Garlic into a paste, finely dice the Onion. Sauté them both in the Olive Oil until translucent.
Add the Ham and Sage. Continue to cook until the Ham just begins to brown. Add the Shrimp.
Cook over high heat until the Shrimp begins to almost cook completely through, then add the shucked fresh Corn and sauté.
Squeeze the juice from one whole Lemon over the cooking Shrimp then add the White Wine. Scrape the bottom to release the caramelized bits.
Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the Adobo sauce and season with Salt and Pepper.
Spoon The Polenta into serving bowls and add the Shrimp on-top. Garnish with the Grated cheese.
Adobo sauce is widely available in a can but if you want to make your own, Rick Bayless has amazing Mexican recipes for homemade authentic sauces and his Adobo Sauce is amazing.
A history of Maize is available from North Carolina Museum of History and here they have outlined the origins of maize, the importance of the three sisters crop planting and some amazing black and white photographs that document the farmers and native people harvesting Corn as well as preparing the Maize. As we get closer to Thanksgiving and are reminded of the importance of our heritage, it is a nice reminder to honestly give thanks for the history and original meaning of one of our primary crops, Corn. Read deeper and track the ancestry of corn in this New York Times article by Sean B. Carroll, to get a fuller understanding of how and why Corn helped to feed our people for so many centuries.
Recently as American’s, we are becoming more aware of what we eat and where our food comes from. Scrutiny around corn as healthy or unhealthy in the American diet is something to consider. Note, what type of corn you buy and how much you are consuming should always be something to keep in mind since corn is high in sugar. Buy from a small mill like Great River Milling or Anson Mills to insure that you have a corn that hasn’t been stripped of essential nutrients or grown with harmful pesticides. You will notice the difference in whichever Corn dish you are preparing, Corn today isn’t as wholesomely harvested as we would like to believe, as Jonathan Foley @GlobalEcoGuy helps us to understand and as consumers, it is becoming more important to research the roots of our food and consider new ways of bringing quality foods to the table. In the meantime, give thanks and explore old foods that become new again.
1 (10") cast iron skillet
4 Tablespoons Butter (plus 1 additional Tablespoon for greasing)
1/4 cup Sugar, Agave or Honey
1 Cup Corn Meal
1 teaspoon Salt
3/4 cup Flour
3 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 cup Milk
1 cup Buttermilk
3/4 cup Canola Oil
1/2 bag frozen Corn Kernels or 3/4 cup fresh Corn on the cob.
Preheat oven to 350°
Heat the cast iron skillet in the oven with the extra one tablespoon of butter for greasing.
Melt the butter and swirl it around covering all sides of the pan. Set aside.
Cream together the 4 tablespoons of butter and the sweetener of your choice.
Add the eggs and mix until well blended.
Place the flour, corn meal and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the milk, buttermilk and oil together in a container.
Turn the mixer on low and gradually add half of the dry ingredients alternating with the milk mixture until all of the ingredients are incorporated and well mixed together. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure the batter is well mixed.
Fold in the Corn.
Spread the batter in the skillet.
Bake in a 350° oven for 45 min or until a skewer tester comes out clean.
You can add 1/4 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese to the batter for a cheesy Corn Bread.
Minced Jalepenos add a spicy zest and can be added as well.