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For a flavor-packed way to shake up the dinnertime routine, add Bacon Cheddar Baked Polenta Fries to the menu. It is an easy side dish recipe that is naturally gluten free and not a bit greasy since they aren’t fried. Just bake in the oven until they are perfectly crispy. Then add a little kick when you dip them in a simple Chipotle Aioli, or use your favorite dipping sauce.
Crispy Baked Polenta Fries – Why You’ll Love Them
Fries might be a staple for many people, but polenta fries are a way to enjoy that crisp exterior with a soft inside texture that you love in a whole new way. It’s time to ditch the spuds and try a different flavor profile.
Speaking of flavor, unlike potatoes, since you have to cook the polenta, you have the opportunity to incorporate herbs, spices, and more tasty things before you transform them into golden little sticks of happiness.
In this recipe, there is some garlic, fresh thyme, and chives, though you can definitely change up the herbs and spices to add what you love. But the real bang for your buck comes from bacon and cheddar cheese. You know I love my cheesy finger foods like Cauliflower Tots and Quinoa Bites, so naturally, my family and I went crazy for these.
And since they are baked instead of fried, they aren’t greasy, and might even be, dare I say, even healthy! Plus, they are naturally gluten free!
What are polenta fries made of?
Polenta fries can be made out of the precooked tubes of polenta that you find in the grocery store. But since we are adding bacon and cheese here, you’ll start with quick-cooking polenta. Regular polenta typically requires about 40 minutes of cooking while stirring constantly. Quick-cooking polenta has been processed to make it cook more quickly, and helps speed up the process of making baked polenta fries.
Since polenta is made from corn, it is naturally gluten free. But there is the possibility that it is processed on equipment with other gluten-containing grains. So be sure to read the labels on the brand you buy if that is a concern for you. Colavita Polenta is manufactured in a dedicated allergy-friendly facility.
Can you use cornmeal?
Polenta is technically ground corn, just like cornmeal. However, to be considered polenta, it is typically made from a specific variety of corn and often ground a little more coarse than cornmeal.
But yes, you could make this recipe with cornmeal, though I would recommend a medium or coarse grind for the right consistency. You may have to cook it a bit longer. Just follow the directions on the package, and don’t skip the step of letting it rest covered in the pan and chilling in the freezer.
Some cornmeal is processed on shared equipment with wheat or other gluten-containing grains, so do be sure that your cornmeal is gluten free and not cross-contaminated.
- Quick cooking polenta: Be sure it is gluten free, if needed. You can also use cornmeal, preferable a medium grind, though it will take a bit longer to cook.
- Garlic: Mince a couple of fresh cloves, or substitute with garlic powder
- Thyme leaves: Fresh is best, though you can use dried.
- Fresh chives: Chop them nice and small.
- Cheddar cheese: I like a good, sharp cheddar. Shredding it yourself is recomended versus buying pre-shredded cheese.
- Bacon: Cook bacon until crispy then chop it. You can also use turkey bacon or even bacon bits, though it won’t have quite as strong of that salty smoky flavor.
- Salt and pepper: To taste.
- Olive oil and/or nonstick cooking spray: It is important to coat your pan well, and you’ll also want a light coating on the polenta fries before baking.
How To Make Baked Polenta Fries
Make the polenta from scratch: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the polenta, garlic, thyme, chives, cheddar cheese, bacon, and salt and pepper. Stir until the polenta is thick, about 3 minutes, or as directed on your package of polenta. Turn the heat off, cover the saucepan, and let the polenta sit for 5 minutes.
Shape and chill: Line an 8×8 square baking dish with parchment paper. Scoop the polenta into the baking dish and spread it into an even layer. Freeze it for 15 minutes.
Slice into fries: Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or olive oil. Lift the polenta out of the baking dish and cut into fries about ¼ inch thick. Place the polenta fries on the greased baking sheet and gently toss with olive oil or spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray, and give them a sprinkle of salt.
Bake until crispy: Spread the fries in an even layer. Bake in a 425°F oven for 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Refrigerate: Baked polenta fries can be stored for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Just place them in an airtight container or cover them with plastic wrap once they are completely cooled. If any moisture collects on them, dab it with a paper towel.
Freeze: You can freeze the polenta fries either before or after you bake them. I recommend leaving them spread apart on a baking sheet until they freeze solid, and then transfer to a plastic freezer storage bag. Let thaw briefly on a greased sheet pan before baking or reheating. They will be best if enjoyed within 1 month.
Reheat: Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the polenta fries on a baking sheet. Reheat for 15-20 minutes.
Dips for Polenta Fries
There are so many possibilities for dunking these Baked Polenta Fries. Here are some ideas:
But to really spice things up, we love this easy aioli. Just combine the following ingredients in a bowl and stir until smooth, then store in the refrigerator until you need it:
- Mayonnaise: If you want to lighten it up, you can use Greek yogurt plus a bit of olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Chipotles in adobo sauce: Be sure to comfirm the brand you use is gluten free, if needed. La Costena and Goya are two brands to look for.
- Smoked paprika
- Garlic powder
Tips for Success
Let it chill: The directions call for freezing the cooked polenta briefly so that it firms up enough to cut into fries. Don’t skip this step or the polenta may not cut cleanly.
Make them in advance: But if you are going to prepare the polenta a day or two before you plan to bake it, then you can just put the baking pan with the polenta in the refrigerator until you are ready to slice and bake.
Try variations: Use different herbs or spices, try another cheese, and even omit the bacon for a meatless version.
Make them in the air fryer: You can also cook the polenta fries in the air fryer at 400°F for about 15 minutes or until crispy and golden. Be sure to spray the basket with cooking spray before placing the polenta fries inside, and cook in batches to avoid overcrowding.
Make it a Meal
Bacon Cheddar Polenta Fries are definitely a fun party appetizer or game day snack. But of course, they are great as an easy gluten free side dish to your favorite dinners.
- Pan Seared Cube Steaks can easily be cooked while the polenta fries are in the oven, then just add a side of Buttered Peas and Carrots.
- Dunk them in the sauce when you serve them with BBQ Turkey Meatballs or even some saucy Baked BBQ Chicken Breasts.
- Instead of regular French fries, make a family-friendly comfort food meal of Homemade Sloppy Joes with simple steamed broccoli or Bacon Green Beans.
Bacon Cheddar Baked Polenta Fries
For the polenta fries:
- 1 cup quick cooking polenta
- 2 cloves garlic, minced of 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves of 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 3 strips of bacon, cooked and chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Nonstick cooking spray
For the polenta fries:
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Adjust heat to medium and whisk in the polenta, garlic, thyme, chives, cheddar cheese, bacon, and salt and pepper. Stir until the polenta is thick, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the saucepan, and let the polenta sit for 5 minutes.
- Line an 8×8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Scoop the polenta into the baking dish and spread it into an even layer. Freeze it for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or coat with olive oil.
- Lift the polenta out of the baking dish and cut into fries about ¼ inch thick. Place the polenta fries on a greased baking sheet and gently toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, or spray them lightly with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Spread the fries in an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking time.
- Sprinkle the cooked polenta fries with chives and serve with chipotle aioli.
For the chipotle aioli:
- Mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, chipotles, smoked paprika, and garlic powder until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
More polenta recipes
I love using polenta since it is naturally gluten free. You won’t believe what you can make with it.