Venetian Shrimp with Polenta


Inspired by Schie con Polenta in Venice, Italy, David McCann tops simple polenta with garlicky, buttery shrimp he's cooked in white wine and chicken stock.

Venetian Shrimp Polenta Recipe
Photo: Victor Protasio
Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
55 mins
4 servings

Years ago, while appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Co. in London, I had a week off and decided a treat was in order. Charlie, my other half, met me in London, and we took a ridiculously cheap flight to Italy. Of course Venice was on the agenda, and especially a restaurant recommended by all of my friends at Food & Wine: Osteria alle Testiere. Upon arrival, we tried to book a reservation, but no luck. I was crushed, but I was in Venice, so I couldn’t really feel that bad.

We took the advice of friends who were seasoned Venice visitors and let ourselves get lost. I believe that’s the only way to see Venice. It was magical. And then, late in the afternoon, we somehow found ourselves outside the shuttered doors of alle Testiere. I started to feel sorry for myself again, and when I turned to share my sorrow with Charlie, he was nowhere to be found. And then I saw him, on his hands and knees, crawling underneath the metal security gate!

As I watched in horror ... nothing happened. I waited, sure that he was about to be arrested. Then he appeared, slithering out from under the gate, looking both a mess and immensely pleased with himself. If we agreed to eat very, very early, and to not linger endlessly after our meal, they graciously agreed to let us be the first customers that night. We raced back to our hotel, showered, changed, and raced back. We then proceeded to have one of the best meals we’ve ever had. I had Schie con Polenta: tiny Venetian brine shrimp with white wine and garlic served over soft polenta. It was a meal and an evening I will never forget, thanks both to Charlie and a wonderful restaurant crew.

Since flying to Venice for dinner isn’t possible for most of us, this magical meal is easy to, if not replicate, at least approximate. I say that because I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to find the famous Venetian gray brine shrimp stateside. These shrimp are seriously tiny and sweet. But we all have access to great shrimp from our fishmongers. For this shrimp and polenta recipe, all you need to do is make a batch of polenta, which isn’t hard at all; it just requires some stirring. And while the polenta simmers away, cook some garlic with white wine and stock, add the shrimp, and cook for about four minutes before swirling in some butter and steaming the shrimp to completion.

The cardinal sin when preparing shrimp is overcooking them, so cook until they’re mostly pink, then toss in the butter and about half of the parsley. The remaining moments of heat while you plate is enough to finish the cooking. Complete the picture with the rest of the parsley and let yourself dream of canals, and San Marco, and the Rialto, and … ah, La Serenissima!



  • 8 cups water

  • 2 cups stone-ground plain white or yellow cornmeal

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

  • 1 fresh bay leaf


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more to taste

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

  • 3/4 cup lower-sodium chicken stock

  • 2 pounds peeled and deveined raw large wild-caught Gulf shrimp

  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided


Make the polenta

  1. Whisk together 8 cups water, cornmeal, salt, and bay leaf in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high, stirring bottom and sides of saucepan often with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring bottom of saucepan occasionally with a wooden spoon, until polenta is tender and thickened, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Make the shrimp

  1. Heat oil, garlic, and red pepper a large, deep skillet over medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add stock and return to a simmer; simmer 3 minutes. Add shrimp, lemon zest, and salt. Cook, stirring often, until shrimp are slightly opaque, about 4 minutes. Stir in butter and half the parsley. Once the butter is melted, remove from heat. Cover and steam shrimp until just cooked through, about 2 minutes.

  2. Divide polenta among warm shallow bowls; top each with shrimp and sauce. Garnish with the rest of the parsley and serve immediately.

Related Articles