Shrimp and polenta is a luxurious Venetian dish where creamy polenta is topped with shrimp cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce. Serve this restaurant-worthy yet undemanding dish as a main course at your next dinner party or date night.
Shrimp and polenta is a classic dish from Venice, where soft creamy polenta is topped with tiny fresh shrimp from Venice’s lagoon. My home version replaced the small shrimp with large shrimp, which makes it feel a bit indulgent!
To simplify things, for this recipe I bake the polenta in the oven. Simply combine polenta, water, and salt in a pot and throw it in the oven for an hour. That’s right: there’s almost no stirring involved! However, if you prefer to make polenta on the stovetop you can use my Creamy Polenta recipe instead.
I cook the shrimp scampi-style, in a skillet with olive oil, garlic, a splash of white wine, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking perks up the flavor. And, just a touch of butter stirred in toward the end gives the sauce a velvety finish, but you can leave it out if you prefer.
Once everything comes together it create a beautiful presentation on a plate where the shrimp provides a nice contrast, both in color and in texture, to the creamy bed of polenta on which they rest.
Table of Contents
What is Polenta e Schie (Polenta and Shrimp)
In Venice, shrimp and polenta is called “polenta e schie” in the local dialect. Schie (pronounced SKI-yeh) refers to the tiny shrimp that once populated the city’s lagoon.
Traditionally, shrimp are either fried whole or quickly sautéed in a spicy sauce of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. These shrimp were historically considered food for the poor. Today, they have become something of a delicacy because they are so difficult to find.
With that in mind, I amended this recipe a bit. At home, I like to use fresh or frozen wild Carolina or other wild American shrimp because they have a pleasing meaty texture and still capture the flavors of traditional polenta e schie.
What You’ll Need to Make Polenta and Shrimp
Most of the ingredients for this shrimp and polenta recipe are readily available at any well-stocked supermarket. Go for a high-quality shrimp (see our tips in our full Guide To Buying And Cooking Shrimp).
- Polenta: Polenta is a creamy porridge made from ground grains, typically cornmeal. This is what forms the bed for the shrimp. Cornmeal for polenta is typically coarsely ground; it is often labeled “polenta” in the supermarket. However, I prefer a mix of fine-grind and medium-grind cornmeal for polenta. Whatever texture you prefer, look for stone-ground cornmeal, which has more nutrition and a better flavor than cornmeal produced with metal grinders. You can learn more about Italian polenta in my creamy polenta recipe.
- Shrimp: Even though the original Venetian version calls for tiny shrimp, I like to use large shrimp for this dish. They’re easier to source and cook, and have a delicious tender yet meaty texture. Quality and freshness of shrimp can vary greatly. Look for fresh-caught U.S. shrimp. Or, buy frozen U.S. shrimp in the freezer section of a well-stocked supermarket or fish market.
- Olive oil: Use a good-quality olive oil that tastes fresh, like our Italian Nocellara. Check the bottle for information on where the oil was produced. The best producers will specify the variety of olives and where they were grown.
- Garlic: Two small cloves of garlic, finely minced, punch up the flavor of the shrimp. Look for tight heads of garlic, with firm cloves and no sign of mold.
- Red pepper flakes: I love the hint of spiciness that red pepper flakes add. The fresher the better, as the flakes lose their flavor and turn bitter over time. I usually grind my own from chile peppers I grow in the summer and dry in the fall. When I run out, I rely on bottled crushed red pepper. Look for brightly colored flecks and check the expiration date on the bottle.
- White wine: The rule goes: Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. An everyday dry white wine, like Soave or Vermentino, is fine. Just be sure you enjoy the flavor on its own.
- Parsley: Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley has an appealing, lemony flavor that is not aggressive. And it adds a splash of color to the shrimp.
- Lemon juice: A generous squeeze on the shrimp right before they come off the heat adds another bright note.
- Butter: You don’t need a lot of butter to enrich this luxurious dish; just a few tablespoons to stir into the polenta and a tablespoon or two to swirl into the pan of shrimp. You can use ghee or swap half the butter with olive oil if you prefer.
How to Make Polenta and Shrimp
Baked polenta simplifies the process with almost no stirring! Just make sure you give it a head start, as it needs about an hour to cook properly. The shrimp, on the other hand, cooks very quickly. Save the shrimp for the last minute, and cook it right before erving.
- Start the polenta. Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot, combine 1 cup cornmeal (I use ¾ cup fine grind and ¼ cup medium grind) with 4 cups cold water. Whisk well. Whisk in 1 teaspoon salt.
- Bake the polenta. Cover the pot and set it in the preheated 350°F oven then let it bake for 50 minutes.
- Peel and devein the shrimp. Remove the peels and veins from one pound of shrimp. (See our guide on how to devein and peel shrimp.
- Prepare the aromatics. Finely chop two cloves of garlic. Finely chop enough parsley leaves to yield 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, plus a bit more for garnish. Finally, juice of ½ of a lemon into a small dish.
- Finish the polenta. Once the polenta has baked for about 50 minutes, it will be a solid mass with some residual liquid. Don't worry! It's supposed to be that way! To break it up, use a sturdy whisk or wooden spoon and carefully but vigorously stir the hot polenta breaking up the mass and transforming it into a creamy consistency. Taste a tiny spoonful to check for doneness. If the polenta is still a little chalky and gritty, rather than tender and creamy, cover the pot and return it to the oven for 10 additional minutes. Finally, remove it from the oven and stir it vigorously once again.
- Enrich the polenta. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter or ghee until thoroughly combined. Nex, turn off the oven and cover the pot, then return the whole thing to the oven to keep it warm while you cook the shrimp.
- Make the shrimp. Grab a wide skillet large enough to hold all the shrimp. Coat the bottom of the skillet with 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle in the chopped garlic and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes (about ½ teaspoon). Set the skillet over medium-low heat and stir to soften the garlic without browning it.
- Deglaze the pan. When the garlic is softened but still pale (1-2 minutes), pour in ½ cup of white wine and ½ cup of water. Sprinkle in ½ teaspoon of salt. Raise the heat to medium-high and let the liquid boil until it has reduced by about half, about 3 minutes.
- Add the shrimp to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and add the shrimp to the pan, arranging them in one single layer. Cook until pink on the bottom, about two minutes. Flip and cook the other side for 1 minute. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley over the shrimp and add the juice of ½ lemon. Let everything cook for another minute or so, until the shrimp is just cooked through.
- Swirl in the butter. Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter or ghee to the pan, if using Gently toss or swirl the pan to melt the butter and incorporate it into the sauce. Remove the shrimp from the heat.
- Assemble and serve. To bring everything together, remove the polenta from the oven and give it a final stir. Put shallow bowls in the oven for 1 to 2 minutes to warm them. Spoon the polenta into the warmed bowls and spoon the shrimp and sauce on top. Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining parsley.
Tips for Success
Timing is important in this recipe, both for the polenta and the shrimp. If you keep an eye on your timing you’ll end up with perfectly cooked, juicy shrimp on a bed of creamy polenta.
- Get a head start. Make sure you preheat the oven to 350°F so that it is hot when you slide in the polenta.
- Stir the polenta. Even though this is oven-baked polenta, you still need to stir it a couple of times at the end to avoid lumps. Stir the polenta vigorously each time you take it out of the oven. A sturdy whisk is the best tool for this task, as it will break up any small lumps that might form. Keep the polenta warm in the turned-off oven while you cook the shrimp so it doesn’t harden.
- Don’t let the garlic brown. Finely chopped garlic can burn easily, which means when making the shrimp, it's best to start with a cold pan and add the olive oil and garlic at the same time. Then, turn on the burner. This allows the garlic to soften gradually without burning.
- Use large shrimp. Even though the original Venetian dish calls for tiny shrimp, you want to use large shrimp here so they will turn out juicy and delicious. Don’t overcook them; cook them on each side just until they turn pink; they will finish cooking in the center when you add the lemon juice and butter.
- Serve in warmed bowls. Since the oven will still be hot from cooking the polenta, got the extra mile and pop your shallow bowls in for a minute or two. Polenta tends cools quickly, so warmed bowls will keep it from cooling too fast.
What to Serve with Polenta and Shrimp
Polenta and shrimp is rich and filling on its own, so I like to keep any accompaniments simple and vibrant. Of course, it all depends on your tastes but two of my favorite sides are broccoli or a simple salad.
When it comes to broccoli, I like to gently steam it then finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (like our Nocellara Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Really you don't need much else.
However, if you want to dress it up a bit a crunchy citrus salad, like our Fresh Fennel Orange Salad works well to balance the richness of this dish. Rounding out the meal with coffee drink, glass of wine or simple dessert is always a good idea in my book. A few favorites are Italian Drinking Chocolate or bite sized Italian pinch cookies called Pizzicati.
The whole purpose of a meal is to linger around the able with the people you care most about, so I do everything I can to make it last as long as possible.
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Shrimp and Polenta
For the polenta:
- ¾ cup fine-grind cornmeal
- ¼ cup medium-grind cornmeal
- 4 cups cold water
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee
For the shrimp:
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ cup dry white wine (such as Soave or Vermentino)
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 pound large wild shrimp, 31-40 per pound, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or ghee
- Make the polenta. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or high-sided saucepan, whisk together the cornmeal, water, and salt. Cover the pot and place in the hot oven. Bake the polenta for 50 minutes, then remove it from the oven and stir vigorously with a whisk to break up the mass of polenta and give it a smooth creamy consistency. Taste for doneness (careful—it’s hot!). If it’s still a little chalky, cover and return it to the oven for 10 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter or ghee and whisk until well combined. Turn off the oven, cover the pot and return the polenta to the oven to keep warm.
- Make the shrimp. Place the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes in a large, wide skillet and set over medium-low to low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is softened and fragrant but not browned. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir in the wine and water. Sprinkle in the salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by about half.
- Add the shrimp. Lower the heat to medium and add the shrimp to the pan in a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes, until pink on the bottom. Turn and cook on the other side for about 1 minute. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parsley over the shrimp and add the lemon juice. Stir or swirl gently while the shrimp finish cooking. After another minute, add 1 tablespoon butter or ghee to the pan and swirl to incorporate it into the sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Remove the polenta from the oven. Place 4 shallow bowls into the oven to warm briefly—1 to 2 minutes, just to take the chill off. Spoon a bed of polenta into each warmed bowl and top with shrimp. Spoon a little of the pan sauce from the shrimp over each serving. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
- If you have any brown bits stuck to the bottom of your pan, use a wooden spoon to scrape them into the sauce when you add the wine. These are drippings from the shrimp and garlic that have been concentrated from the heat. They’ll add tons of complex flavor to your sauce!
- Cornmeal is typically coarsely ground and is often labeled “polenta” in the supermarket. I prefer a mix of fine-grind and medium-grind cornmeal for polenta. Whatever texture you like, look for stone-ground, as it has more nutrition and a better flavor than cornmeal that’s been made with metal grinders. You can read more about Italian polenta in my creamy polenta recipe.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams and spices.