Traditional Romanian Polenta (Mamaliga)

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Traditional Romanian Polenta (Mamaliga)

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Polenta boiled in water
250 g Cornmeal
1 l Water
1 teaspoon Salt
  • Medium


  • Polenta boiled in water



I see polenta as a stand-alone dish, not simply a side dish. But it is a versatile food that pairs well with meat, fish, sauces stews and eggs. It is so essential in Romania that there is even a saying: “one is ready for marriage once you know how to make polenta”. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of recipes for the perfect polenta.


Polenta is a versatile food: various recipes of polenta-based dishes include milk, butter, various types of cheese, eggs, sausage (usually fried, grilled or oven-roasted), bacon, mushroom, ham, fish etc. Polenta is a fat-free, cholesterol-free, high-fiber food. It can be used as a healthy alternative to more refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta or hulled rice.

When cooked peasant-style and used as a bread substitute, polenta is meant to be much thicker than the regular Italian polenta, to the point that it can be cut into slices, like bread. When cooked for other purposes, polenta can be much softer, sometimes almost to the consistency of porridge. Because polenta sticks to metal surfaces, a piece of sewing thread is used to cut it into slices rather than a knife. It can then be eaten by hand, just like bread.

How to Make Polenta Boiled in Water:

Preparation 1:

  1. In a roomy pot of about 3 L, put boiling water, salt and add the cornmeal. Use 4 cups of water to a cup of cornmeal.
  2. First, mix it with a whisk to make sure that no lumps form.
  3. When the polenta starts to boil (attention! It bubbles!) switch to a wooden spoon. The polenta should be stirred continuously during cooking. It thickens and snorts like a volcano.
  4. Boil the polenta for about 10-12 minutes. Taste it to check it is done, which is when it doesn’t feel gritty to the teeth. If necessary, add more salt so that it is not bland.
  5. Theoretically, the polenta is now ready and can be served…. but there is one more step. Another procedure is needed.
  6. Take the pot off the heat and scrape all the polenta from the sides of the pot and press it down with the back of a spoon.
  7. Cover the pot with a lid and leave the polenta to steam for 3-4 minutes.
  8. Then return to the heat (low to medium) and wait until you hear a rumble erupt from under the lid. It only takes 1 minute.
  9. This is the trick to get the polenta to detach itself from the sides of the pot, helped by the force of the steam coming out of it.
  10. Immediately replace the lid with a plate (or with a clean wooden board) and overturn the whole thing so the polenta is turned out onto the plate. Ta-daa !!

Preparation 2:

  1. Boil the water together with the salt, preferably in a cast iron pot or a thick-walled pot. If you don’t have such a thing, don’t be discouraged because it’s no biggie – it works great in any other pot.
  2. When the water boils, sprinkle in the cornmeal, stirring constantly with a whisk. This way you make sure that the mixture will not have lumps when it combines with the hot water.
  3. When you feel that the corn is beginning to swell and thicken, turn the heat to low. You can now change the metal whisk for a wooden spoon and continue to mix from time to time.
  4. Let it boil for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how “thick” you want it. You will feel when you stir it. If it still seems too soft, leave it for a few more minutes.
  5. When it’s ready, before turning it over, press well with the back of the spoon pulling it away from the sides so that the polenta takes on a nice round shape in the pot.
  6. Quickly turn the polenta upside down onto a thick wooden cutting board or on a flat plate.
  7. If the bottom of the pot remains dry, covered only by a thin layer of cornstarch as in the picture (COMMENT: above or on the right?) above, on the right, it means that you have made polenta by the book.

Baked polenta:

  1. If you want to make a kind of polenta pudding, you need to first boil it in milk for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Add a nugget of butter and mix.
  3. Pour the polenta onto a flat tray covered with baking paper and level it out evenly. Leave to cool and then cut it into slices or the desired shape.
  4. You can then use it as a base for various dishes, combining it with cheese, eggs, butter, cream, salt and pepper.
  5. Then place in the oven at 210 degrees for another 10-15 minutes


  1. In a pot, preferably oven safe, put in the cornmeal, salt and water. If you want, add some butter.
  2. Stir to dissolve the cornmeal in the water.
  3. Put on the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often to avoid lumps.
  4. When the corn has absorbed the water and you see the first bubbles on the surface and it starts to splash slightly, about 5 minutes, take the pot off the heat.
  5. Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil. If the pot does not go in the oven, put the polenta in an ovenproof pot and cover it.
  6. Place the pot in the oven at 160C for 45 minutes.
  7. Once the polenta is done, remove from the oven and stir it a few times.
  8. With these proportions of polenta-water, your dish will have a medium consistency; it is not very hard but not too soft either.
  9. I tried this recipe with corn and millet and it worked well with both, with small differences in how soft it is. With milled corn, it came out slightly softer. If you want it firmer, just decrease the amount of water.
  10. If you want a soft and super creamy polenta, add some crumbled cheese and stir vigorously until it dissolves in the polenta. The polenta will lighten in color and will become a paler yellow.

Mamaliguta la Cuptor

Photo credit: E-Retete

Fried Polenta:

  1. Put baking paper on a baking tray and spread the freshly boiled polenta to a layer of 1-2 cm.
  2. Cover with cling film, leave to cool and then refrigerate.
  3. When it has cooled well, cut it into squares and then fry them in a little olive oil in a pan for 2 minutes on each side.
  4. When you take it out of the frying pan, put the slices on absorbent paper to remove the excess oil.


  1. Cut the boiled and cooled polenta into slices up to 1 cm thick.
  2. Sprinkle coarse salt on the hot plate or pan, without oil, then put in the polenta slices.
  3. Leave until lightly browned, then turn to the other side.

Mamaliga Fripta

Photo credit: Pofta Buna

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