My dad’s all-time favorite breakfast.
Pepper-Jack Polenta Cakes With Chorizo, Fried Eggs and Spicy Crema
If I had to pick one thing to make from my book of recipes, this would be it.
Sometimes a recipe just works. I remember sitting with my notepad and pen trying to think of breakfast recipes to work out when the idea for this breakfast hit me out of nowhere. I knew I wanted to include polenta in a dish, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. Personally, I prefer savory breakfasts to sweet ones, so I knew eggs would be included, but I wasn’t sure what the rest of the ingredients would be. I decided to go with chorizo as my protein, which gave the dish a decidedly southwestern vibe, and that made the rest of the ingredients no-brainers. The addition of avocado and a hot sauce crema complete this breakfast perfectly, and it has quickly become my dad’s all-time favorite morning dish, even though it has a component you don’t hear all that much about…
Polenta is a cornmeal most traditionally used in Italian cooking (save yourself some time and look for it in the Italian food section of your grocery store first – it might be a grain, but it’s been my experience that stores – in a constant effort to keep us on our toes – don’t keep it with other grain products). The texture is a lot like grits, a southern staple, which always remind me of mornings spent at the dining hall during my days as a student at Clemson University. Since leaving the Southeast, I don’t really make grits or polenta all that often, but, after making this breakfast, I’m thinking I may have to change that…I forgot just how delicious these versatile grains can be. Polenta, like grits, is a cheap grain that’s also easy to make, which makes it an automatic winner in my book. With the addition of some cheese and spices, polenta can actually be a truly stand-out part of any dish, which is pretty incredible given that it starts out as a totally flavorless bag of cornmeal. In this batch, I added pepper jack cheese, paprika, cumin and dried oregano (and OK, maybe some butter and salt…after all, what would Southern-style cooking be without ’em?), and then I let the polenta set up in a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes so that it would be firm enough for me to cut into discs. Done correctly, polenta should be flavorful and super creamy and rich – which is exactly how these turn out every time.
The addition of spicy pork chorizo and a fried egg lend a perfect balance of texture and fat to the dish, and the spicy crema cools everything off just the right amount. Lastly, it’s 2017, and what would breakfast or brunch be without avocado on or near it, so I add some sliced avocado to each plate for good measure. This is one of those meals that has as much flavor as it does plate-appeal, which means that not only is it absolutely delicious, but it’s 100% Instagram-worthy, which is like, half the reason why any of us cook anyway, right?
Get your appetite – and cameras – ready, here’s my recipe for the best breakfast ever (as voted on by my dad):
For the polenta cakes:
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 – 2/3 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded
For the crema:
4 ounces sour cream
Hot sauce, to taste
For the toppings:
2 tubes pork chorizo
Boil 3 (not 4) cups water and salt in a large pot. When water begins boiling, reduce heat to gentle simmer (medium-low) and add grits while stirring. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and add extra cup water. Cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick. Add butter and stir to combine. Add spices and stir to combine. Lastly, add cheese and stir to combine. Basically, before you move on to the next step: stir to combine.
*Spread polenta on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil in an even layer and allow the polenta to set for at least 15 minutes by placing the baking sheet in the freezer.
While the polenta sets, make the crema by combining the sour cream with hot sauce of your choice. I prefer Cholula brand hot sauce for this dish, and I use about 3-4 tbsp of it to achieve my desired level of spice. You could use as much or as little hot sauce as you like depending on how hot you want the crema to be.
Next, cook the chorizo according to package directions (typically it cooks for about 10 minutes on the stove top). Once its cooked, remove it from the heat and strain the grease (there will be a lot of grease – chorizo is delicious, but man is it fatty). Set chorizo aside and keep it warm until you’re ready to plate your breakfast.
Remove polenta from the freezer or refrigerator and use a cookie cutter to cut out medium sized discs. Re-heat the discs on the stove top for about 2-3 minutes per side.
**Meanwhile, fry your eggs with salt and pepper.
To assemble, simply start with a polenta cake and add chorizo, a fried egg and crema on top. Garnish with chives.
*Polenta sets quickly, so it won’t be long before you can cookie-cut it into discs. You could allow it to set at room temperature but, if you can make room in your freezer or refrigerator, it will set a bit faster and will also be easier to cut it into discs for this dish. Also, if you have a standard 13×9 baking dish, you will only need to spread the polenta out on about half of it (this way you get nice, thick cakes – if you spread out a thin layer across the whole sheet, the discs would be pretty thin). The polenta won’t go anywhere you don’t tell it to go, so just spread it on half of the dish and pop it in the freezer. If it’s been cooked properly, it won’t spread out and will set where you’ve placed it.
**Typically, I would whole-heartedly encourage frying your eggs in the same pan as the chorizo. When it comes to breakfast, I’m a big believer in using the leftover grease from a pan-fried protein like bacon to cook everything from eggs to potatoes, but chorizo is just so fatty…it pains me to say this… that it’s actually too greasy to use for frying eggs. So, do yourself a favor, and grab a fresh pan for your eggs, you’ll be glad you did.