Bon Appetit Instant Pot Polenta

I contacted Bon Appetit via Twitter and email for an explanation or credit, but they replied with sassy insults, instead.

I wanted to be wrong, but the Bon Appetit author hasn’t been able to share how she came up with a technique that experts who have been pressure cooking for 30+ years, like Lorna Sass, said was nearly impossible to make under pressure. Let’s be honest, polenta is tricky!  So why is Bon Appetit’s technique so similar to a technique and recipe that I published on this website in 2010?

To be clear: I am not claiming copyright on their recipe.  I am simply asking the magazine for details on how they came up with the method, or to credit the source that heavily inspired it.

The similarities between Bon Appetit’s written recipe and my polenta recipe and technique are:

  1. The polenta-to-liquid ratio is the same – this is something I came up with on my own after I tried already-published recipes, such as The Veggie Queen’s Polenta from 2008 (too stiff), and Italian bloggers (measured by weight).
  2. The ingredient note is the same – I warn readers not to use “instant” polenta.  That’s because in my testing it solidifies before the cooker has had a chance to reach pressure. I don’t see this as an obvious note – since someone is using the pressure cooker to make things faster it would make sense to try using a faster-cooking version of polenta as well.
  3. Continuing to stir the ingredients up until the lid is closed is the same – this is a technique I talk about and credit to an Italian blog (to which I link).  I hadn’t seen it anywhere outside of that blog.  Honestly, it’s a great idea because the starch from the polenta does not have time to settle on the bottom of the pressure cooker and burn before the cooker reaches pressure.
  4. The cooking time is nearly the same, it differs by 1 minute – In the world of pressure cookery, this difference will give the same results. So, it is actually not really a difference. I came up with the timing using an ancient Italian venting pressure cooker (Barazzoni) and this was the average time it took before the polenta stated to smell burnt.  I later found the timing also worked with modern stovetop and electric pressure cookers – likely due to the small size and refined nature of cornmeal – so I recommend the same timing for both.
  5. The opening method is nearly the same, both release pressure through the valve, only the speed differs – my recipe and techniques have had this updated several times during the 8 years it has been online (links to independent verification at the bottom of this post).  Originally I called for a “cold-water quick”, when electric pressure cookers became popular I called for a “normal” (quick) release, and the current recipe has an opening method that I came up with “slow normal”  which was added as a safety precaution to prevent bubbles of super-heated steam from coming to the surface after the lid is removed <–Please read this alert before following Bon Appetit’s dangerous instructions to open a pressure cooker polenta with a quick (normal) release.

The differences between the two recipes and methods are:

  1. The cornmeal is drizzled into cold water at Bon Appetit and boiling water for the Hip method.

Below is an exchange I had on Twitter with Carla Lalli, Food Director, at Bon Appetit Magazine and author of the polenta recipe on this matter. My additional thoughts on how the differences between their written recipe and video make it obvious the author is probably being less than truthful are below the conversation.

Whether you have Twitter or not, I recommend reading this discussion directly through this Twitter moment – as it also includes reactions and opinions from respected food writers, culinary educators, and food world influencers and thinkers.

 

Please note that in  Bon Appetit’s pressure cooker polenta video the author just dumps all of the ingredients (water, polenta, cheese, and pepper)  in the Instant Pot without stirring calls it a “dump & go” recipe and sets the time but the written recipe on their website (and magazine) – actually written by the same person in the video – says to bring the ingredients to a simmer stirring before closing the lid just as my method and recipe do.  I find this difference odd for someone who authored the recipe and also claims via Twitter conversation, above, to have prepared it at home a couple of years before publishing it.

In my opinion, the video is all the proof that is needed to show that the Bon Appetit author did not develop their own recipe and method.

The video shows when the pressure cooker is opened that the polenta is still raw (probably caused by the cheese accidentally added at the beginning sticking to the base preventing the cooker from reaching pressure). And, yes, I have been making polenta from the time I was a child (and that was a long time ago) so I can spot raw cornmeal from a mile away.

Bon Appetit Polenta video shows raw polenta after cooking – someone didn’t follow their “own” technique, apparently.

Note that there is very little starch being released, the grains are not a uniform color and the grains still hold their original shape even after being stirred. No amount of whisking is going to turn that mess into the polenta they have in the photo – in fact, if a whisk can whip through it, the polenta is not fully cooked. When it is poured into a dish at the end of the video, you can still see the polka-dots of the raw grains – not a light yellow creamy polenta as is shown in their photo.  It’s raw.

Notice the grains poking out of the mix and the polenta plopping and not pouring out in a smooth fully-cooked starch-filled stream.

In the video, the lady even pretends that the polenta is cooked correctly by saying that it’s supposed to look raw when you remove the lid (FYI: it’s not).  If you’ve been making polenta at home, following the technique Bon Appetit printed in the magazine and website or something similar, for two years you’d realize that the polenta isn’t cooked and maybe do a re-shoot of the video? I emphasize this point to make it clear that the author is not making a thoroughly-tested oft-used recipe and that polenta really is a tricky ingredient that can’t be improvised into perfection.

In closing, I would like to note that Bon Appetit’s magazine editor has not replied to my original e-mail, that was addressed to him directly,  to either defend the reputation of the magazine and recipe author or to find a way to rectify the pressure cooker polenta pilfering.

As a, now former, fan of the publication I can’t help but see this sass and silence as a tarnish of their long-standing reputation.

So… what do you think about this?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, below, or via Twitter. Thank you for taking the time to learn about an issue that is important to me and the time and the work I put behind my techniques and no-fail tested recipes.

 

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15 Comments

  1. I think it’s appalling and I believe you have a legitimate complaint. Her comment that it came to her in a dream is insulting and proof that she can’t argue with facts.
    Having said that, I have never noticed your recipe for polenta before but it has me intrigued! I’ll be trying it out, so thank you!

    1. I hope you like it! I think I’ll be making my own video for it, soon. ; )

      Ciao,

      L

  2. I’d guess that she got it from your site years ago and has forgotten where she got it from. The gracious thing for her to do would be to acknowledge that she probably got it from your site and can’t remember doing so.

    1. Ciao, Rusty!!

      Yes, that’s what I originally thought, too. But when I watched the cooking video, more critically, I don’t believe for a minute that this lady has been making this polenta “for a couple of years”. Seriously. Maybe not more than a couple of times – with or without pressure. She had a whole bag of cornmeal, an entire stick of butter and a pantry full of pecorino.

      How hard would have been to realize something wrong happened when the polenta came out raw and just re-shoot the part of the video where she puts the ingredients in the cooker and pours it out?!?! But she went on pretending like it turned out OK and even adding that it’s supposed to look like it’s not cooked. Puhleeeze!!

      Ciao,

      L

  3. I think it is likely that her recipe is based on yours, and that what you ask, “details on how they came up with the method, or to credit the source that heavily inspired it” is a reasonable request. After watching the video, I’m not surprised that you were given a defensive and unprofessional response to your inquiry. The apparent refusal to provide a back-story does not add to her credibility. On the other hand, it would add to her credibility to make a statement such as, “I have created a variation of PC polenta using sources, _____.” Keep up the hip work. I’ve learned so much from your site, and I come back often. Maybe someday you’ll even convince me to go electric!

    1. Thanks for the support, Piero. That video is ridiculous on multiple levels. I thought it was really reaching for a story to say that she came up with and idea for the recipe following the Italian tradition of adding cheese and pepper to pasta. Ahem! I’m pretty sure we’ve been adding cheese and pepper to polenta for centuries! What the heck?!?

      Electric pressure cookers will get better and better to the point where, eventually, you’ll convince yourself. ; ) I haven’t given up on trying to convince European manufacturers to create their own premium, quality electric. There is a big hole in the market that is waiting to be filled – and I it’s not one that Instant Pot can satisfy.

      Ciao,

      L

  4. It was you who used sassy insults continuously, I was very impressed with the mature responses from them and shocked at the immature petty tweets from you. Until, like me, they got fed up with your whining. Be the bigger person and grow up! Unfollow!

    1. Carla?

      If you call asking someone who refuses to share how they developed a VERY similar recipe to give credit where it’s due an insult or pointing out that a mistake was made in the video that anyone who has ever made polenta (with or without pressure) could spot an insult- then I’ll have to agree with you that I’m guilty as charged.

      If you look at the twitter moment big names in food writing and editing support my claim – they even state that this case is an “obvious” lift.

      Ciao,

      L

  5. When I watched her video, the first thing I noticed was the complete lack of respect she showed for the guy who was more than willing to stir non-stop for 40 minutes to prepare a delicious dish. She made it very clear she would never ‘waste’ that much time or energy. Her comments and attitude made it pretty clear she is a “lazy” cook – one who is always looking for shortcuts or better yet a way to get someone else do the actual work while she pigs out and takes all the credit.
    I have 18 seriously damage vertebrae (no option or way to repair)and 2 blown knees (surgery in 2 weeks to replace the knee that dislocates most often- first) all from being a passenger in a car accident while in college — and yet I gladly stood and stirred for 30 minutes last month, just to prepare my husbands favorite dish for our 35th anniversary. My husband is the love of my life! and I would do it again tomorrow, just to see the smile on his face when he takes that first bite!!

    1. Janye, you’re amazing! Thank you for sharing your story and to show us that sometimes the effort to do things well is totally worth it.

      Happy 35th Anniversary!!!

      Ciao,

      L

  6. IMHO Carla Lillian Music plagiarized and lacks the stones to say she forgot to give you credit OR never intended to do so. Given the current ethical dilemma of misleading media in general, I am SADLY, NOT SURPRISED.

    DISGUSTED? YES. APPALLED? YES

    Surprised? Nope

    The editor should make her cook it in front of a group, like she is teaching a class and assess how smoothly she performs & if the polenta is smooth and creamy.

    1. Honestly, I think the editor must have asked her about it and – as she stated in the tweets – she likely told him there were substantive differences. He probably took her word for it and moved on. Though, there is no excuse for the executive editor deciding to decide to publish a video that is REALLY different from the written recipe.

      Ciao,

      L

  7. Snow?! – definitely not “as pure as the driven …” if that was Carla or even if it wasn’t.
    I so admire people like you who can test a recipe concept over and over until it is not only tasty but as simple as possible for others to follow. And then you kept improving it.
    I find it unfathomable that the editor did not even contact you/ I have found issues with some of their other recipes. I would not have looked at this recipe on their site, or yours, as polenta is not something I am interested in. I am interested in fairness and professionalism, which was not exhibited by the “author” or the editor, and why I read this article.
    Shame on Bon Apetit.

  8. Laura,

    I’ve used your polenta recipe. It works brilliantly.

    I re-read through your article and compared it with the Bon Appetite article. There is absolutely no doubt that the Bon Appetite has plagiarized your recipe.

    I can tell you are a nice, polite person and you’re probably feeling that it’s best to just let this slide and not make a fuss about it. However, I can also tell that you work very hard on your site and your recipe development and that some acknowledgement is due to you on this. Rightly so!

    I just want to encourage you to pursue this matter with all vigor. These people count on you rolling-over and never challenging them.

    The reason you are getting sass instead of a reasoned response is because you have caught them red-handed and called out the writer on her plagiarism. To her, a good offense is the best defense.

    I just looked up this “writer”, Carla Lalli Music. Ooooof… She’s a rough one. I’ve had to deal folks like this before. She’ll prefer a scorched earth death match over the slightest admission of error. It wont be easy or polite taking them on. They have no intention of being ‘fair’. Ever.

    I don’t want to discourage you but if you understand how they will react then you will have a much easier path to press your claim. Here is how it will progress;

    * They will always lie – We’ve already established that! It will not stop. Ever.

    * They will appeal to credentialism and entitlement – We’re starting to see some of this already in her Twitter responses. Eventually, you will see something from them along the lines of “I have a prestigious job at a marquee publication in New York and you are merely an insignificant blogger from fly-over country. How DARE you question ME??!!” It will not stop. Ever.

    * They will try to bog you down with pointless hair-splitting arguments. – “8 minutes vs. 9 minutes” Yeah, right… Don’t take the bait on this.

    * They will double-down on the lies, hair-splitting and credentialism. After they do that, they will double-down again. And again.

    * At a certain point they will start accusing YOU of misdeeds and wrong-doing. This is when you know you have them. Whatever it is they accuse you of you can be assured that that is exactly what they are guilty of. They will always project their own wrongs on everyone else.

    You really need to hold out for full credit of the recipe development and accept nothing less. Sadly, what will happen is, at best, they may offer to add something in very small print stating that the recipe was adapted from HipPressureCooking.com. In their minds, this acknowledgement is HUGELY GENEROUS (see appeal to credentialism and entitlement).

    Don’t take it.

    Insist on full credit for recipe development prominently display in the text of the on-line article and a credit screen added to the beginning of the video to last at least 5 seconds. If the recipe is in the print version of Bon Appetite then also insist on a prominently displayed correction and acknowledgement in the next issue. Insist, insist, insist!!

    They will never agree to this. They will remove the recipe and video from the website. When this happens you have won. You and your readers will know the real story of how you took a stand for honesty and integrity and won.

    Go get ‘em!!!

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