With a golden brown crisp exterior and creamy interior, these baked polenta fries are not your average French fry. These are appetizer royalty! And the Parmesan aioli? So good it can be eaten with a spoon! Enjoy these as an appetizer, side dish for a steak, or just as an afternoon pick-me-up!
Polenta, Cornmeal, Ready-Made Polenta—what to use?
Not surprisingly, cornmeal that’s labeled as “polenta” is more traditional. As is coarse or medium coarse ground corn grits. Many people will tell you to avoid cornmeal altogether but—hot take—I prefer cornmeal. I like the super-smooth, fine grained texture. I find it lends itself to crisping nicely in the oven.
I don’t recommend using ready-made polenta that comes in a tube, but if you’re short on time or have it in your pantry needing to be used up—go for it! Simply cut the polenta out of the plastic packaging and cut into fries. Bake as directed in recipe.
How to Make Polenta Fries
- Cook the cornmeal on the stove top until thick and creamy. It’s essential that you stir the cornmeal continuously to avoid scorching the bottom of the pan. An added bonus of using cornmeal—the cook time is brief.
- Spread the cornmeal mixture evenly into a greased 8½×12-inch baking sheet (quarter sheet pan). I like to use an offset spatula to create a smooth and even layer.
- Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the polenta. This seals the surface and ensures a dry skin doesn’t form on the polenta.
- Refrigerate polenta for at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days). If you’re making these all in one day, preheat the oven while the polenta chills.
- Turn polenta out onto a cutting board by placing a cutting board over the sheet pan and flipping upside down. You may need to tap it against the counter to get the polenta to release.
- Cut the polenta into thin fries then arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and season liberally with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.
- Bake until golden brown! While the fries bake, whip up the sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients together. Easy!
You can make the polenta and store it in the refrigerator (spread in the baking sheet) up to two days ahead of time. Just make sure you press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to avoid drying out the top.
Avoid Making These Completely Ahead of Time
I don’t recommend freezing or refrigerating polenta fries after baking. The chilling negatively impacts the texture and crispness of the fries. If you simply need to reheat the polenta fries because they’ve sat out for a bit, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 375-degree oven until warmed through and re-crisped.
Dips to Serve With Polenta Fries
Polenta fries are very versatile and pair well with a variety of dips. If you’re looking to keep things uber simple, serve these with sour cream or mayo. They’re delicious on their own sprinkled with minced fresh rosemary and Parmesan. We also love topping the warm fries with a few pats of Truffle Butter. And lastly, you can’t go wrong serving some Green Goddess Dressing on the side.
How to Make Vegan Polenta Fries
It’s incredibly easy to make these polenta fries vegan! Simply use shredded vegan cheese in place of the Parmesan. You can skip adding vegan cheese altogether, but it really boosts the flavor.
As for the dipping sauce, swap the avocado oil mayonnaise out for your favorite vegan mayonnaise and skip adding the Parmesan to the dip.
- Swap the Parmesan in the dipping sauce for blue cheese or gorgonzola.
- Add some cayenne pepper to the polenta for a little kick of heat.
- Add finely chopped fresh herbs to the polenta mix such as oregano and rosemary.
If you give these polenta fries a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @zestfulkitchen on Instagram. I love hearing about and seeing your ZK creations!
Polenta Fries Recipe
- 3 cups water
- 1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- ½ cup avocado oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- ½ teaspoon grated fresh garlic
- Coat an 8½×12-inch baking sheet (quarter sheet pan) with nonstick spray.
- Boil water in a large saucepan over high heat. Gradually add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium; cook polenta until thick and beginning to pull away from sides of pan, 3–5 minutes.
- Off heat, stir in ½ cup Parmesan and 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Spread polenta evenly onto prepared quarter baking sheet. Press plastic wrap onto surface; chill until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
- Heat oven to 400° with rack in center position. Coat a large baking sheet with nonstick spray.
- Uncover polenta and turn polenta out onto a cutting board by placing a cutting board over sheet and flipping upside down; tap to release polenta from sheet. Cut polenta into 4×½-inch strips. Separate fries and arrange on prepared baking sheet in a single layer; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Bake fries 30 minutes, then flip and continue baking until brown, 10–20 minutes turning fries every 8 minutes or so to achieve even browning.
- Meanwhile, whisk together mayonnaise, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, chives, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, and garlic; season with black pepper to taste.
- Let fries cool briefly on pan to crisp before serving with Parmesan aioli.