Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Light Stunt: Garlic Shrimp Scampi and Soft Polenta with Olive Oil plus a Rant

Garlic Shrimp Scampi and Soft Polenta with Olive Oil

Sorry I've been so absent lately. My daughter recently had a birthday so I was caught up with preparations for her party. Also, I haven't prepared anything blogworthy lately. This past weekend was Saint Patrick's Day, so I hope everyone enjoyed green Guiness, Baileys, and/or corned beef and cabbage. For me, this past weekend was filled with food highs and lows, as I was reminded why I loathe chain restaurants. This dish was definitely a high. More on the low later.

So this is my version of the Southern staple shrimp and grits, only with an Italian twist on the dish. It's hardly original, but I have a tough time making shrimp the focal protein in a dish. For me, shrimp is best complementing other ingredients (such as in a pasta sauce, part of a surf-and-turf, etc.), or on it's own as an hors d'oeuvres because of it's size. I know it's psychological. If I can pick up the protein with my fingers and eat it without cutting it into pieces, I feel like I'm missing something.

The shrimp component came togther rather quickly which qualified it for a Light Stunt. I've also updated the polenta method primarily because the version I published last December yielded too much for my family of three.

The Challenge

Get past my mental issues with shrimp and attempt an alternate method for preparing polenta.

The Source

I adapted the polenta recipe from Michael Chiarello's Soft Polenta with Greens and Basil Oil which can be found on page 129 of Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking by Michael Chiarello with Janet Fletcher. The shrimp recipe I took from page 147 of the recipe guide of Top Chef University DVD set.


4 1/2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt
1 cup corn meal
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
24 medium sized shrimp, peeled, deveined, but tails left on
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade for garnish
prosciutto bits, for garnish


1. Start the polenta: Bring the chicken stock to a boil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan and add kosher salt to taste. Slowly whisk in the corn meal. Once the corn meal has been added and the mixture thickens, switch to a wooden spoon and reduce heat to low and maintain a bare simmer. Cook, stirring often until thick and creamy, about 40 minutes.

2. Prepare the shrimp: While the polenta cooks, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Season both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a large sauté pan over high heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once the oil starts to smoke, add the shrimp and garlic. Toss the shrimp to coat them in the oil and garlic and remove them to a plate once the shrimp turn pink and are slightly curled, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the heated pan and swirl to melt, thereby deglazing it with any residual shrimp and garlic flavors. Add the lemon juice and white wine and let it reduce for a minute or two. Fold in the parsley and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the shrimp to the pan and toss the to infuse the flavors of the sauce with the shrimp. Remove from heat.

3. Finish the dish: Once the polenta has reached the desired consistency, stir in the parmesan and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove from heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring to melt. To plate, add the polenta to warmed bowls, top with shrimp, garnish with the prosciutto and basil, then drizzle with olive oil.


Be sure to stir in the corn meal slowly. In my rush to get started with the shrimp, I added the corn meal too quickly and it started to clump together so I had to aggressively stir the mixture to break it apart. In addition, most polenta recipes I've reviewed advise to heavily season the liquid before adding the corn meal but I'd advise caution if you're using chicken stock because the stock could already have a high sodium content. This is especially true if you use store-bought stock. As I noted above, the shrimp component cooked very quickly so I was unfortunately unable to take pictures. I still have issues with shrimp entreés, but this did help in alleviating the problem.

Finally, I'd like to ask those reading this that are in the food service industry professionally a question. My food low this past weekend occurred on Saturday night when my disdain for chain restaurants was reinforced. My daughter and I went to the nearby location of said chain ahead of Mrs. Stuntman, who was meeting us there from the office. We arrived about 7:30pm and was told there would be a 45 minute wait which I thought was reasonable for a group of three at a popular restaurant, given the time on a busy Saturday night. A few minutes before my name was called, I spotted Mrs. Stuntman circling the parking lot trying to find a space. When I got to the hostess stand, I explained that my wife was just parking and would only be 5 minutes behind. The hostess refused to sit me and my daughter but noted that once Mrs. Stuntman arrived, they would seat us when the next table became available.


I understand that an empty table at a restaurant doesn't generate revenue, but I don't understand why it wouldn't seat a group when the most of them are present. Let's say the business gave my table away to someone else and then two tables later, my wife arrives which means that we would be cutting in front of someone else. Why should that other customer be penalized because I was late? Theoretically, wouldn't it be fairer to send my group back to the bottom of the list? Secondly, we're talking a mere 5 minutes. I already knew Mrs. Stuntman's drink order and she would have caught up easily when she got to our table, however, this particular chain decided to make a point and the position of the hostess was later confirmed by the front-of-house manager. I would be willing to bet that if the size of a group was twenty but were only missing two, it would be seated.

Given the extremely competitive nature of this industry (There are at least a half dozen other chain restaurants in the same parking lot alone.), I was more than a little surprised by the actions of this business. I must admit, I lost my cool, yelled at the manager, waited outside while Mrs. Stuntman and my daughter ate inside and got a drive-thru grease burger on my way home.

What am I missing here? Food service prefessionals, I would appreciate if you can enlighten me. Please leave a comment below.


  1. This looks wonderful! I love polenta but hardly ever think to make it as the starch part of our meals. I do not know why! Pinning to try soon!

  2. Your Garlic Shrimp Scampi and Polenta looks AMAZING!! Yum. I am not in the food industry at all, but have that exact experience at several chain restaurants. They have this policy not to seat a party until the entire party is there. Much like you, I don't get it. Why should it matter?
    You're going to buy dinner and drinks and eat ANYWAY, even if Mrs. Stuntman had NOT showed up, so I don't understand why it would matter.
    At any rate, we sound a lot alike, many times I have sat in the car and refuse to patronize a business that others I am with will. haha It's my adult tempter tantrum, and while probably not pretty, it's just who I am.
    I feel your pain.

  3. Like Stacy, I never think to make polenta with a meal. Thanks for the reminder. This dish looks delicious. And, like you, I've never understood the wait to be seated policy. If you wanted a table for 10 but only had 2 people there, then maybe since, if the rest of the party doesn't show up, they would waste a table for 10 on just 2 people. But if the majority of the group is there, or if the group size wouldn't matter to the table size (say 6 people are seated at a table for 8 anyway), then go ahead and seat the party that is there. It's silly.

  4. Love your blog Stuntman! Good job facing your "mental issues with shrimp" hahahah. Excited to keep reading!

    Follow back if you can - my SF Restaurant Review Blog :)



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