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Rosemary Polenta Fries (Air Fryer or Baked!)

If you're looking for a hearty, satisfying, budget-friendly side dish, then you should definitely make these Rosemary & Thyme Polenta Fries! They're baked or air fried until crispy on the outside and warm and fragrant on the inside. These polenta fries are perfect for dipping into your favorite sauce, and go well with pretty much any protein!

These polenta fries are vegan, vegetarian, and naturally gluten-free. They're super budget-friendly and inexpensive to make.

They are also great way to use up leftover polenta, which is not good on day 2 unless it's turned into crispy fries.

Crispy air fried polenta fries on parchment paper
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What do polenta fries taste like?

Polenta fries remind me of cornbread. Polenta fries are made from polenta, which is ground dried yellow corn. Polenta is similar to grits, which is dried ground white corn. For this recipe, you'll use pre-cooked polenta meal, which is usually called "instant polenta" or "quick cooking polenta" on the packaging.

To make polenta fries, you simply cook polenta into a porridge and let it thicken as it cools, then cut it into fry-shaped pieces and bake until crispy on the outside.

The result has the same awesome comfort food vibes that you get from cornbread, but with a crispier texture on the outside, a creamier texture on the inside, and a more savory flavor. Cornbread is typically sweet, but these polenta fries are seasoned with salt, rosemary, and thyme.

While cornbread is a little crumbly in the hand and is a little fluffy, these polenta fries are firmer and perfect for dipping. We love them with chili!

These polenta fries remind me a little of these grits fritters, which are fried little grits balls. 

Polenta fries are delicious and a nice change from the typical side dishes, but I also want to level-set some expectations: polenta fries are nothing like French fries and not quite as comforting as potato fries. But they do have their place in our menu rotation!

Hand picking up piece of polenta fry

Related recipe: Savory Spicy Cornbread

Air fryer polenta fries

I really recommend making these polenta fries in the air fryer instead of baking them. The air fryer cooks them in 8-10 minutes at 350F, which is faster than baking. Although admittedly, you do have to air fry the polenta in a couple of batches because the air fryer is smaller and this recipe makes a large amount.

Air fried polenta fries also come out crispier than baking, which makes them slightly more delicious. 

I cook my polenta fries in my Instant Pot Vortex, so I can get 2 air fryer trays in there at the same time and rotate them halfway through air frying. Then as we're all enjoying a hot fresh batch or polenta fries, I cook the next batch.

Leftover polenta recipe

These polenta fries are a GREAT way to use up leftover polenta, which gets hard and almost inedible on day 2. The only way to "save" that leftover polenta is to pour into a mold (like in the recipe instructions below), refrigerate it overnight, then cut it into "fry" shapes and air fry or bake it. So keep this in mind if you make too much polenta one day. Or if you're anything like me, you will make extra polenta on purpose to eat it as a porridge on day 1, and to turn it into polenta fries on day 2. 

Cook smarter, not harder. 🙂

Bowl of uncooked polenta cornmeal

Ingredients

Related recipe: Moroccan Meatballs with Polenta

Optional add-ins and substitutions

  • Try adding ½ teaspoon garlic powder and/or onion powder to the water when cooking the polenta.
  • Try using vegetable stock or chicken broth instead of water to add more flavor to the polenta (skip the salt or reduce the salt is using salted broth!).
  • Stir in shredded Parmesan after the polenta is cooked. The shredded stuff from the green container is fine for polenta fries, it doesn't have to be the fancy parmigiana cheese here.
  • Try stirring in a 1-2 tablespoons of butter into the water or stock for a richer flavor.
  • Try using other fresh or dried herbs!
  • You can use quick-cooking grits instead of polenta, but the polenta fries will be white instead of yellow.

Special equipment needed

  • Medium saucepan (2-3 quart, nonstick is best for cooking polenta!)
  • Loaf pan or 8x8-inch baking pan
  • Parchment paper—this really helps prevent sticking!
  • Whisk (I recommend a silicone whisk so you don't scratch the bottom of your saucepan)
  • Very large baking sheet, such as 11x17-inch, or an air fryer (I love my Instant Pot Vortex!)
  • Silicone spatula (optional but really helpful for getting all the polenta out from the cooking pot and for smoothing the polenta in the loaf pan)
Collage of 2 pictures of rosemary and thyme

Related recipe: Cajun Shrimp with Cheesy Grits

Instructions

Step 1: Boil the water and salt in a small saucepan. Stir in the polenta, chopped rosemary, and thyme while whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to a simmer, continue to stir constantly, and cook until the water is all absorbed and the polenta is cooked, about 5-8 minutes. Watch out for the polenta splattering, it can burn your arm! Reduce the heat to the lowest setting or even turn it off and continue stirring to help prevent splatter.

Close up or pot of cooked polenta

Step 2: Line a loaf pan or an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper (this will help with cleanup). Pour the polenta into the pan and use a spatula or a spoon to smooth it out on top as much as you can. Cover with more parchment paper, gently pressing the parchment paper to the top of the polenta.

Step 3: Allow to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for at least 1.5-2 hours, or until fully chilled, even in the center. If you want to keep it in the fridge overnight, I recommend covering the top of the polenta with parchment paper or plastic wrap and pressing down gently, to prevent a hard crust from forming.

Collage of 2 pictures of polenta in a loaf pan.

Step 4: Remove from the fridge, carefully transfer the block of polenta onto a cutting board, and slice into French fry-shaped pieces. Another option is to cut it into thin sheets and then use cookie cutters to make fun shapes. 

Polenta fries on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Step 5: Air frying instructions: Preheat the air fryer to 350F, if your air fryer requires preheating. Place the polenta pieces in the air fryer tray and spray lightly with olive oil. Air fry at 350F for 8-10 minutes, or until crispy on top. Sprinkle with sea salt, allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve hot with your favorite dip.

Oven instructions: When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and brush or spray lightly with oil. Arrange the polenta pieces on the oil-sprayed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until crispy on the edges. Sprinkle with sea salt, allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve hot with your favorite dip.

Related recipe: Parsnip Fries with Bacon

Dipping sauce for polenta fries

Here are a few or our favorite dipping sauces for polenta fries:

  • Garlic aioli
  • Ketchup + mayo mixed together in equal parts, plus a few drops of sriracha for spice
  • Tartar sauce
  • BBQ sauce

Tips and optional add-ins for making polenta fries

→ Time saving tip: You can cook the polenta and have it chill in the fridge for up to 1-2 days before baking. The polenta fries are best served right after baking.

→ Make sure the chop the herbs really finely—into tiny pieces—so you don't have big pieces of herbs when you bite into the polenta pieces.

→ Watch out for hot water/polenta splattering as the polenta cooks! It can really burn your skin. I recommend turning off the heat as soon as the polenta thickens and using the residual heat to finish cooking the polenta. Wear long sleeves to prevent any injuries from the hot polenta splatter!

→ Whisk constantly while adding the polenta to prevent any lumps from forming.

What to serve with polenta fries

These polenta fries go GREAT with burgers (try these ground pork burgers or chicken burgers!). They also make a great side dish for steak, sloppy joes, or BBQ chicken sandwiches. And as mentioned above, they're perfect for dipping into chili!

Reheating leftover polenta fries

Polenta fries are great leftover! It's OK if they dry out a little overnight in the fridge, since they're crispy on the outside to begin with. Reheat them in the oven, toaster oven, or air fryer for just a few minutes, until heated through and crispy on the outside.

If you enjoyed this recipe, let me know with a comment and a star rating below. And don't forget to share it on Facebook and save it on Pinterest for later!

Air fried polenta fries on parchment paper
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5 from 3 votes

Rosemary Polenta Fries (Air Fryer & Baking Instructions)

Polenta fries are like a savory crispy finger food cornbread! These rosemary & thyme polenta fries are baked and so delicious served with burgers or steak. Naturally gluten-free and vegetarian.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Chilling time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 20 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 5 servings
Author: Kate

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups instant polenta (quick-cooking or pre-cooked polenta), I used Bob's Red Mill
  • 4 cups water see notes
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme finely minced (or ½ - 1 tablespoon dry)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary finely minced (or ½ - 1 tablespoon dry)
  • oil spray

Special equipment

Instructions

  • Boil the water and salt in a small saucepan. Stir in the polenta, chopped rosemary, and thyme while whisking constantly, and cook until the water is all absorbed and the polenta is cooked and very thick, about 5-8 minutes. Stir frequently while cooking.
  • Line a loaf pan or an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper (this will help with cleanup). Pour the cooked polenta into the pan and use a spatula get all of it out of the sauce pan and to even it out on top in the loaf pan. Cover with more parchment paper, gently pressing the parchment paper to the top of the polenta.
  • Allow to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for at least 1.5-2 hours, or until fully chilled, even in the center.
  • Remove from the fridge, carefully transfer the block of polenta onto a cutting board, and slice into French fry-shaped pieces.
Air fryer instructions
  • Preheat air fryer to 350F, if your air fryer requires preheating. Arrange the polenta pieces on the air fryer tray and spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Air fry at 350F for 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt, allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with your favorite dipping sauce (see notes below).
Baking instructions
  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and brush or spray with oil.
  • Arrange the polenta pieces on the oil-sprayed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until crispy on the edges. Sprinkle with sea salt, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, and serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce (see notes for ideas).

Notes

  • Try adding ½ teaspoon garlic powder and/or onion powder to the water when cooking the polenta.
  • Try using vegetable stock or chicken broth instead of water to add more flavor to the polenta (skip the salt or reduce the salt is using salted broth!).
  • Stir in ½ - 1 cup shredded Parmesan after the polenta is cooked. 
  • Try stirring in a 1-2 tablespoons of butter into the water or stock for a richer flavor.
  • Time saving tip: You can cook the polenta and have it chill in the fridge for up to 1-2 days before baking. Gently press parchment paper or plastic wrap on top of the polenta so it doesn't form a hard crust.
  • Dipping sauce ideas: garlic aioli, ketchup + mayo with a few drops of sriracha, tartar sauce, BBQ sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 187kcal (9%) | Carbohydrates: 36g (12%) | Protein: 5g (10%) | Fat: 3g (5%) | Saturated Fat: 1g (5%) | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 477mg (20%) | Potassium: 176mg (5%) | Fiber: 5g (20%) | Sugar: 1g (1%) | Vitamin A: 156IU (3%) | Vitamin C: 5mg (6%) | Calcium: 23mg (2%) | Iron: 2mg (11%)

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