“Isn’t it done yet? It looks too thick!”
People usually say this when the polenta still needs to cook another 45 minutes or so. And here’s the answer: “It ain’t done… it shouldn’t be that thick, it should be thicker!”
Polenta isn’t grits. In comparison, grits are watery. Polenta should be solid enough to cut with a sewing thread and hold its shape (because that’s how Italian grandmothers do it). It’ll get so thick that it pulls away from the edges of the pot when you stir it and you’ll be sweating bullets trying to get it stirred. A crust of delicious dried polenta will form around the edge of the pot…. at this point it is ‘done’. This takes between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on how much you are making. Polenta is a nearly impossible thing to overcook; as long as you keep stirring it, it’ll be fine.
The only exception is white polenta, which is cooked to a thick-grits consistency.
Why do we want to keep cooking the polenta past the point where most Americans think it is done? Because the longer you cook it, the more the polenta releases starch, which makes it creamier. Creamy polenta (without adding cream) is a wonderful thing, and is worth the time and sweat. Happy polenta making!