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These baked polenta fries are a wonderful, healthier take on America’s favorite side dish. Chilled cheesy polenta is cut into strips, brushed with olive oil, and baked to crispy golden brown. They are the perfect side to serve with your next burger, sandwich, or hearty salad.
I’ve been looking for a healthier solution to french fries for years. They are just so crave-able. I know, however, that the classic version is loaded with trans fats and saturated fats and can’t be too good for overall health. What to do? I finally stumbled upon the idea to make polenta “fries” and discovered that they make a fabulous, equally crave-worthy solution.
These polenta fries are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside just like a perfect french fry. The polenta is infused with savory, salty parmesan cheese and seasoned perfectly with a simple mix of salt and pepper. Once the polenta has been cooked, chilled, and set properly, it is cut into strips and baked to a delightful golden brown. Hold the fries and try these crispy polenta strips instead. Your body (and your taste buds) will thank you for it.
What Is Polenta?
When yellow cornmeal is cooked in liquid, it comes together into a porridgy consistency called polenta. Polenta can be served in this soft form or it can be chilled and set into pretty much any shape you desire. It is common to add milk and/or cheese to the dish as it cooks to give it some depth.
Are Polenta Fries Healthier than Regular Fries?
Polenta fries are healthier than regular fries in the sense that they are baked instead of deep-fried. It’s ok to enjoy deep-fried foods every once in a while but they are high in saturated fat and trans fat which can increase risk of heart disease and stroke.
What You’ll Need
This is a simple recipe requiring simple ingredients. Here’s what you will need to make these polenta sticks. Make sure to scroll to the recipe card below for more detailed instructions.
- Quick-cooking polenta – see note below on the difference!
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Grated parmesan cheese – You can buy pre-grated cheese but if you have an extra minute to grate your own from a block, I suggest you do. It will melt into the polenta more easily.
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper + grated parmesan cheese
Quick-Cooking polenta vs. Regular polenta
For this recipe, you’ll want to look for quick-cooking polenta, or instant polenta. It comes together much faster than regular polenta, which could take up to 40 minutes to cook and lots of babysitting (aka constant stirring). Quick-cook polenta takes only about 5 minutes.
Isn’t Polenta Just Cornmeal?
They’re nearly the same product but when it comes down to it, it’s about the consistency of the grain. Polenta is more coarsely ground which gives the end product more bite and doesn’t lend to being too mushy. Cornmeal is way finer ground and can come out mushy or soupy if you try to prepare it like polenta. So, next question that I’m sure will be asked – no, you may not substitute cornmeal for polenta in this recipe!
How to Make Polenta Fries
A little cooking, a little chilling, some slicing, and some baking is all it takes to make these crispy polenta fries. Here’s a quick rundown of how to do it. Make sure to scroll to the recipe card below for more detailed instructions.
- Cook the polenta. Boil 2 cups of water. Whisk in the polenta, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parmesan cheese.
- Chill. Spread the cooked polenta in an even layer in an 8×8” pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for about 1 hour to set.
- Prepare to bake. Preheat the oven to 425˚F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut the polenta into ~12-14 fries (½” thick).
- Bake. Arrange the fries on the prepared baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil, and bake for 15 minutes. Flip and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Recipe Tips & Variations
Ready to make the best polenta fries you’ve ever had? Here are a few tips and tricks to get you there. I included some fun ways to through your own spin on this classic recipe as well.
- Keep it moving. When cooking the polenta, make sure to stir occasionally otherwise the cornmeal will stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Don’t skip the chill. It is important to let the polenta chill for at least 1 hour (alternatively you can freeze it for 20-30 minutes). Without this chill time, the polenta won’t set and you won’t be able to cut it into fries.
- Cut the fries evenly. It is important that the fries are roughly the same size and shape to ensure even baking time.
- Try chicken stock. You can cook the polenta fries in chicken stock instead of water to add a little extra flavor.
- Try a different cheese. Parmesan is my favorite here but pecorino would be delicious as would mozzarella or pepper jack.
- Try using pre-cooked polenta in a tube. In a pinch? This is a great solution. Squeeze it out of the tube on a flat surface (a baking pan would be perfect) and pat it with your hands to form a square.
- Finish it off with a delicious spin. Try drizzling the baked fries with truffle oil and/or sprinkling with fresh parsley to take them up a notch.
What to Serve with Baked Polenta Fries
There’s nothing like a side of fries (polenta fries in this case) to complete a meal. Here are a few of my favorite ways to serve these polenta sticks.
- Burgers. Ahh, the classic burger and fry combo. Try serving these cheesy polenta fries with my Smash Burgers, this Hot Pepper Garlic Chorizo Cheeseburger, or my Grilled Turkey Chorizo Burgers.
- Sandwiches. These fries go perfectly with pretty much any sandwich. Try them with my Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwich or this Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich. Vegetarian? Try my Smashed Chickpea Sandwiches or this Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich.
- Salad. Round out your next salad with a side of healthy baked polenta fries. I suggest serving them with this BLT Pasta Salad, my Vegan Caesar Salad, or even this Warm Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Farro.
- Dips. You can’t have fries without a dip. Grab your favorite ketchup or garlic aioli. Feeling adventurous? Hop in the kitchen and whip up some Homemade Tzatziki Dip, Pepperoni Pizza Dip, or Authentic Easy Baba Ganoush.
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
If you find yourself with leftover crispy baked polenta fries, allow them to cool to room temperature before sealing them in an airtight container. You can store them in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. When you are ready to reheat, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange the fries on the sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes or until heated through.
Can I Freeze Crispy Polenta Sticks?
You can! You can do so after baking or before. Here’s how to do both.
After baking. Allow the dish to cool completely before sealing the fries in an airtight container. Separate any layers with a piece of parchment paper to prevent the fries from sticking together. Store the container in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you are ready to enjoy, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Arrange the fries on the sheet pan in a single layer and bake for 15 minutes or until heated through.
Before baking. You can also freeze polenta fries before baking them. Cut the polenta into strips and arrange them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the sheet in the freezer for a couple of hours until the fries firm up. Transfer the polenta strips to a Ziplock bag and return them to the freezer for up to 3 months. When it comes time to enjoy, arrange the fries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush both sides with olive oil, and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes on either side.
More Easy Side Dishes:
Side dishes are such a fun way to dress up a meal. These polenta fries are delightful but here are a few of my other favorites.
- Air Fryer Smashed Brussels Sprouts
- Simple Creamy Potatoes Au Gratin
- Duck Fat Potatoes
- Za’atar Cucumber Tomato Salad
- Crazy Roasted Cauliflower Recipe
- Twice-Baked Loaded Ranch Potatoes
- 1 cup (159 g) quick-cooking polenta
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup (50 g) grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- More salt and pepper + grated parmesan cheese for serving
The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the polenta, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, until the polenta has soaked up all of the liquid.
- Stir in the parmesan cheese.
- Transfer the polenta mixture to an 8×8” pan lined with parchment paper. Spread into an even layer. (Use an offset spatula to make it as even as possible.)
- Refrigerate for about 1 hour to set. (Alternatively, freeze for 20-30 minutes). The polenta should feel firm to the touch when ready.
- Preheat oven to 425 °F (218 °C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Transfer to a cutting board. Slice the square in half, then slice each half into ~12-14 fries, about ½” thick.
- Transfer the fries to the baking sheet. Brush each side with olive oil. Optional: season with more salt.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully use tongs to flip over each fry. Return to oven for another 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and serve warm with more grated parmesan cheese.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.