The Bottom Line: Though neither as versatile or economical as dry polenta, Trader Joe's shelf-stable, precooked organic polenta has decent flavor and texture. It can be a helpful time-saver on busy nights, and it's a handy shortcut for recipes that call for making polenta rounds.
Pros & Cons
- Reduces preparation time by at least 15 to 20 minutes in recipes that call for cooked, firm polenta.
- Convenient for use in baked casseroles.
- Tube-shaped polenta is easy to slice into perfect rounds for an elegant presentation.
- Firm texture is good for grilling, broiling, or pan-frying.
- Shelf stable product requires no refrigeration until opened.
- Gluten-free, vegan, and kosher.
- Precooked polenta is less economical than dry polenta.
- The cook has little control over the texture, which limits the recipe applications.
- Cylindrical tubes take up more pantry space and are trickier to store than a box or bag of dry polenta.
- Fitting polenta rounds into a baking dish can be frustrating, especially if trying to avoid gaps.
- A single tube of polenta may not be enough for many recipes.
Polenta, or ground cornmeal mush, is economical and versatile and makes a hearty side dish or base for vegetarian meals. It's both easy and fairly quick to prepare. Plus, introducing water into a food product increases the chance, however remote, that pathogenic bacteria can grow in it, making it a slightly less safe option.
The polenta had something of a slick surface, feeling a bit plasticky. Once sliced, the interior texture of the polenta rounds was more typical of the homemade stuff. For what it's worth, the polenta didn't taste like its packaging.
The firm polenta was easy enough to slice and handle, but assembling my casserole was a little exasperating.
Cook your own polenta, and it's easy to pour an even layer into a baking dish. Try to cover that same dish with a bunch of rounds, and the endeavor is more frustrating, especially if you're trying not to leave gaps, or want to distribute the polenta evenly between layers.
On the flip side, if you wanted to capitalize on their shape, presentation-wise, this would be a very convenient way of obtaining and preparing it.
Once baked, the polenta was tasty, with a pleasant, true cornmeal flavor. On another occasion, the polenta was pan-fried in butter with good results. While the freedom to choose whether to cook your polenta in water or stock, to add herbs, cheese, or other flavorings, and to control the texture is nice, Trader Joe's precooked polenta is a convenient shortcut to a satisfying meal.
Price: $1.99/18 ounce tube.
Organic. Gluten Free. Kosher.
Available in Trader Joe's stores nationwide.