Recipe of the Week: Meat-free polenta ‘steaks’ with mushroom gravy

Chicken-fried steak is one of the ultimate comfort foods, but if you’re eating less meat, it can be difficult — at first — to replicate those rich flavors without beef.

"Modern Comfort Cooking" author Lauren Grier didn't let that stop her. Chicken-fried steak "is something I plunge into on a semi-annual basis, but I always feel like two miles of bad road the day after. And the day after that," she writes. Instead of the traditional method of frying a flattened, flour-and-egg-coated steak, Grier developed this faux steak and gravy using polenta and mushrooms.

The polenta steaks act as a blank canvas for other flavors, so if you don’t want to rely on the mushroom gravy, you could add oregano, thyme or herbes de Provence to the polenta before pouring in the pan.

Fried Polenta ‘Steaks’ with Mushroom Gravy

For the gravy:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms

1/2 cup julienned red onion

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

For the polenta steaks:

3 cups water

1 cup instant polenta or quick cooking grits

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish

To make the gravy, in a skillet over to medium heat, add the olive oil and mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms until golden brown, or about 5 minutes. Next, add the red onion, rosemary, kosher salt and ground pepper. Continue to sauté the veggies until softened, or for about 4 minutes. Add the butter to the skillet and let it melt. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute or until all the veggies are coated with the flour. Gradually whisk in the chicken or vegetable stock. Continue whisking until the gravy has thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed and then remove the skillet from the heat.

For the polenta steaks: Spray a 9-inch-by-9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set it aside. In a large saucepan, bring the water to a simmer. Pour in the polenta and begin to whisk it. Simmer until the polenta begins to thicken, or about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese, 1 tablespoon of the butter, the cream, salt and pepper. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish. Gently press the polenta evenly into the baking dish. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and let it chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

Once chilled, cut the polenta into four 4-inch squares. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and sear each side of the polenta until it is golden brown. Remove the polenta from the skillet and place it on a serving plate. Top it with warm mushroom gravy, sprinkle with parsley and serve. Serves 4.

— From "Modern Comfort Cooking: Feel-Good Favorites Made Fresh and New" by Lauren Grier (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)