Crispy polenta rounds topped with pesto, some butter poached shrimp, chile-infused oil and a little garnish and you have a great appetizer for a few or a bunch at a BBQ or any gathering. We hope you enjoy this Butter Poached Shrimp and Pesto Polenta Bites recipe as much as we do!
This dish was a result of our love for shrimp and polenta. Think of it as a very distant Italian cousin to shrimp ‘n grits! In the summer, we end up with so much basil that we just have to make homemade basil pesto, so this is another great application for our basil pesto sauce.
Poaching shrimp is one of the best ways to keep them tender and makes for a very tasty preparation! Poaching them in a mixture of butter and water is even more delicious! We love to use them to top off these amazing appetizer bites.
This recipe incorporates our Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe for the perfect little bite to serve for date night or special dinner, a gathering or dinner party, or as a tasty snack! Make it a full meal and follow this dish with our Spaghetti Carbonara with Asparagus or Chicken with White Wine Vinegar Tomato Sauce and Spinach Orzo.
This recipe requires very few ingredients and is quite easy to make:
- Polenta: You can certainly make your own, but we cheat a little and buy the 18 ounce precooked roll of polenta to save some time and effort, then pan fry the rounds in olive oil.
- Shrimp: Good quality frozen peeled and deveined shrimp is a good choice for this recipe. When we use smaller ones, we put 2 shrimp on each bite.
- Unsalted Butter: We use quite a bit of butter here, but the shrimp get such an amazing taste and texture that it’s well worth it. Since the butter is used in the poaching liquid, you get a ton of flavor without actually consuming the butter.
- Basil Pesto: We highly recommend making basil pesto from scratch because it is so so easy to make and way better than any store-bought version.
- Chile Oil: The chile-infused oil is drizzled on top of the shrimp for serving. It adds a touch of heat to the final dish.
- Small Basil Leaves: Another garnish that elevates these bites is using micro basil leaves.
See recipe card for quantities.
This is a quick appetizer to make that doesn't involve many steps:
- Make the Crispy Polenta Rounds: Making the polenta rounds first is usually a good idea. We serve ours at room temperature anyway. Just a pan and some olive oil and you can crisp up these rounds easily. It takes about 3-5 minutes per side over medium heat to get some golden brown color.
- Poach the Shrimp: Butter poaching the shrimp is quite easy. We a modified “beurre monté,” which is a French sauce that is nothing more than butter and water. Once the temperature of the poaching liquid is at about 175°F, drop the shrimp into the liquid and gently poach for several minutes. If you keep the poaching liquid between 170-175°F it will be easy to poach the shrimp without fear of overcooking. Taking the temperature of shrimp with an instant reading thermometer is the safest way to see if they’re done. You’re looking for 145°F as an internal temperature and the cooking time will depend on how large the shrimp are and how many you are cooking at one time (putting a lot of shrimp into the liquid at the same time will decrease the temp of the liquid).
- Assemble the Polenta Bites: The rest is assembly. Add about 1 tablespoon of pesto on the polenta rounds, then add a shrimp or two depending on their size, and drizzle with a touch of chile oil. Top it off with a very small basil leaf or two and serve!
Hint: The polenta is a little tricky to handle. The rounds will tend to stick to each other until they crisp up on both sides and they are a bit fragile. Chopsticks are a great way to flip them if you feel comfortable using them as the polenta will stick to a spatula or a fork. Take your time and do them in batches. They can absolutely be made ahead of time, then stored in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use (see storage instructions below).
Here are a few common substitutions. This recipe is already gluten free, if that is a concern.
- Vegetarian: To make this vegetarian, replace the shrimp with nearly anything. Think of any vegetable that would pair well with pesto and use that. Switch out the shrimp for roasted artichoke hearts, grilled tofu or cauliflower florets.
- Basil Pesto: If you have a nut allergy and can't eat a traditional basil pesto, you can make homemade basil pesto with sunflower or pepitas instead. Or use a nut free basil pesto in its place.
- Don't like spicy??: Omit the chile oil from this recipe and replace it with Extra Virgin Olive Oil or a different infused olive oil, such as lemon, basil or garlic.
- Deluxe: If you really want to make this for a fancy crowd, change the shrimp to lobster, or add some caviar.
- Use different Pestos: Switch out the basil pesto for another delicious pesto sauce. Try our Roasted Red Pepper Pesto instead!
You will need a large nonstick skillet to make the crispy polenta rounds. For the shrimp a medium pot will work perfectly. Additionally, you’ll want an instant read thermometer and a whisk for the shrimp. Everything else you’d need is pretty standard kitchen stuff!
These appetizers are best when made fresh. However, the shrimp can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for a couple of days and the polenta up to 5 days in the fridge. You can even save the poaching liquid to use it again, just make sure to label it so you know what it is! We recommend storing the individual components of this dish separately in airtight containers in the fridge.
We do not recommend freezing the cooked shrimp or polenta, but you can freeze pesto for later use. See the storage instructions for pesto under our homemade basil pesto post.
To reheat the individual components of this dish, simply bring your poaching liquid back up to 175°F and drop the shrimp back in for a minute or so until warmed throughout. To reheat the polenta rounds, place them in a single layer in a toaster oven or regular oven at 300°F until warm to serve. The pesto should be room temperature.
It’s so much easier to do things ahead of time for this recipe rather than trying to do everything together. Also, smaller shrimp may be easier to eat when assembled, but that requires peeling and deveining twice as many! To make it easier, simply buy peeled and deveined shrimp.
They are both ground corn and are similar, but they are not the same thing. Polenta is made from a different type of corn (flint corn) than grits (dent corn). The two types of corn have a different makeup but they’re not so different when compared. Grits are ground differently and result in a coarser (usually) and more irregular texture than polenta. Polenta will be more flaky, but this would be hard to tell with the naked eye.
Both polenta and grits can be found in the classic state or "instant," meaning they have been par-cooked and take less time, but have less flavor. The color is not a very helpful guide, even though some say grits are white and polenta is yellow. Grits can certainly be yellow and polenta can be white as well! Finally, grits are slightly starchier and tend to have a little more “creaminess” when cooked.
The finished polenta is usually water, salt and the ground polenta if you are keeping it basic. However, polenta can be cooked just about any way and in a variety of liquids. Herbs and spices are always a welcome addition to a dish of polenta. You can serve polenta creamy or cooked to a thick consistency, or fried like we do here.
Check out our Smoked Gouda and Porcini Mushroom Polenta recipe if you enjoy polenta dishes.
Poaching involves cooking foods in a liquid (often water-based, such as stock or water) at a temperature of between 160° and 180°F. Since water boils at 212°F, that is the only temperature at which you would “boil” foods. Poaching is a much more gentle way of cooking than boiling and is good for more delicate foods, like shrimp, fish, etc. But you can certainly poach a variety of proteins and vegetables.
The poaching liquid is technically not a beurre monte, as it has more water than a true beurre monte. But it is based on that sauce and you do get the buttery flavor and amazing texture in the shrimp.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are our favorite main courses to serve with Butter Poached Shrimp and Pesto Polenta Bites appetizer:
Butter Poached Shrimp and Pesto Polenta Bites
- 1 medium pot
- 1 large skillet
- 1 Instant read thermometer
- 1 Roll precooked polenta 18 ounce package
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup water
- 1 pound unsalted butter cut into tablespoons
- 24 medium shrimp see note, peeled and deveined
- ¾ cup basil pesto
- 1-2 Tablespoons chile oil
- 12 small basil leaves
- Slice the polenta roll into 12 pieces and place on a plate. We do not use the ends as they are rounded, so you can slice them off. Each piece will be just under ½”. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the polenta rounds when the oil is hot - we do ours in 2-3 batches as they are easier to manage. They will cook for 3-5 minutes per side - until golden brown. Once complete, set aside.
- In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and start whisking in the butter. If the sauce gets too cool, put it back on low heat, but you don’t want to get the poaching liquid too hot. Get the poaching liquid to 175° and then add the shrimp. Try to keep the poaching liquid as close to 170-175° as you can as you cook them. Poach the shrimp gently until they read 145° internal temperature. If using medium shrimp this will only take a few minutes. Jumbo shrimp may take 5-6 minutes. You will see the shrimp turn opaque and a whitish/pink color and start to firm up. You can always make a few extra shrimp and pull one out to cut in half as a tester if you don’t have a thermometer. Remove the shrimp once they are done and start assembling your appetizers.
- Put a tablespoon of pesto on each polenta round, add the shrimp on top of that and garnish with a tiny drizzle of chile oil and a small basil leaf on top. Enjoy!
Edit these specifically for this recipe.
- Cook the shrimp to a temperature of 145 °F
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove