Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits

Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

“Umm…ok” is what I heard from Carolyn when I told her we were having shrimp and grits for dinner. The boys just looked confused. Then I said “think of it as prawns and polenta with butter sauce” and they all looked relieved. It’s funny, because Carolyn knows that grits and polenta are basically the same thing, but there is something about the word “grits” that (at least for many outside the south) has some negative culinary vibes attached.

gritsgrits1And that’s too bad, because this is a killer dish that uses simple, readily available ingredients and is easy to make. Carolyn and the kids loved it. And that shouldn’t have been a surprise. We all enjoy polenta (cornmeal mush), so the grits were just a slightly more rustic version of the Italian classic. Basically the grits were polenta, but with bacon, onion and butter added instead of the cheese and pancetta we might include in polenta.  Either way, pretty hard to go wrong here. Just remember to stir (the only real work with grits or polenta is to stir often to keep it from burning).

grits2grits3grits4We adapted the recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s cookbook “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. We are fans of this cookbook, it has 20 different ingredients, tools and techniques for the home cook and then provides recipes to match. Some of it is basic stuff like “salt” “roast” and “butter”, but it is always good to remember fundamentals like seasoning and cooking with butter.  So when we want to expand or refine our cooking, we often open “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. In this case we were looking for different ways to cook shrimp and Ruhlman had butter-poached shrimp with grits in the “butter” section. Good stuff.

grits5grits6grits8The key technique here is to poach the shrimp in a butter and water emulsion over low heat. This technique is easy and gives you very moist, flavorful shrimp. Even at low heat shrimp still cook quickly, so it only takes 4-5 minutes. This is also a forgiving technique, so if you go a little over the cooking time the shrimp will still be good (unlike high-heat cooking methods). You also get the bonus of a very flavorful butter sauce to enhance the grits and drizzle over the shrimp. Add a little seasoning and some lemon and you are in business.

grits9grits10So regardless of what we call it, we will make this dish a few more times this summer. So, once more, we say “thanks Ruhlman” for a successful recipe, we expect to say it again soon…

Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits:

(Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

Notes Before You Start:

  • You can use white or yellow grits, just look for high-quality stoneground grits.
  • The recipe suggests you make the grits with water and then stock and/or milk. We like chicken stock, but feel free to experiment.

What You Get: An excellent shrimp dish and some very tasty grits. A good introduction to a southern classic.

What You Need: No special equipment required.

How Long? 45-60 minutes, most of it active. This is an easy dish but there is plenty of work to do. Anytime dish if you find cooking therapeutic after a long day. Otherwise, best made on weekends.


(Serves 4 as a main course)

  • 4 oz. bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups stoneground grits
  • 2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or milk (or water)
  • 2 cups water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup butter, cut into 12 chunks
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Lemon wedges
  • Smoked paprika, for garnish (optional)
  • Italian parsley, for garnish


  1. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crisp and brown. Add the onion and a big pinch of salt, cook until softened.
  2. Add the grits and stir. Then add your stock, milk and/or water (4 cups of liquid, in total). Increase the heat and bring the grits to a simmer. Then move the heat to low and cook the grits, stirring often, until done, about 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place a saucepan just big enough to hold the shrimp and butter over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of water and bring to a simmer. Then whisk in the chunks of butter, one at a time until all are incorporated and you have an emulsion. Add the shrimp and then moderate the temperature to keep the butter just below simmering. Poach the shrimp, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 4-5 minutes. (To test doneness simply cut open a shrimp, if white in the center, it’s done. If translucent it needs more time.) Take the shrimp off the heat.
  4. Add 1/3 to 1/2 of the poaching butter to the grits and seasoning, to taste. Spoon the grits into bowls, add the shrimp, drizzle on more of the butter. Add the lemon wedges. Garnish with smoked paprika and parsley, if you like. Serve.

43 thoughts on “Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits

  1. Very interesting, I’ll have to try making something like this! I’ve never heard of an Italian version of polenta con gamberi, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Until recently (I believe it was on Mimi’s blog) I had never heard of grits being Southern for polenta. It might be nice to make this with shrimp stock. Also, you can save on the amount of butter by cooking the shrimp sous-vide 🙂

  2. I absolutely love savory grits. My friend claims that he’s the kind of “shrimp and grits,” but I’ll have to show him this recipe to see if he’s really all talk or not! Looks great!

    • Yes, they do seem a bit “foreign” outside the south. The sad thing for us is that we spend a lot of time in the low country and still didn’t have grits that often. Our loss…

  3. I had some amazing BBQ shrimp and cheddar grits at a restaurant once. This sounds just as good – anything with bacon in it is a winner in my book!

  4. Time to take the fam to Charleston. They won’t be ‘umming’ shrimp and grits anymore! It would be the same here though in northwest- Creamy polenta and spotted prawns anyone?
    Looks delish however you name it!!!

    • Thanks. The sad thing is we go to the low country all the time…the kids always got hush puppies instead of grits. They may change their minds now…

  5. Living in the south, shrimp and grits are a local staple, and soooo delicious! Have never butter poached the shrimp before. Sounds like a great idea!

    • Thanks. We cook shrimp a number of ways including the more traditional “bbq” versions, but the butter poaching has the best texture. We may add more seasoning to the butter next time…

  6. Great post and an interesting take on shrimp and grits. I live in Charleston, where both Shrimp and Grits are highly revered. If you want amazing grits, try doing them in a rice cooker using butter and milk, not stock. No stirring needed either. Here is a link on how to do them my way: http://sassy-spoon.com/2012/07/19/grits-in-a-rice-cooker-perfection/ they come out unbelievably creamy and good. You are so right, stone ground grits are imperative. SO many people I have met had tried quick grits or Quaker grits… no wonder they don’t like them! Also there are some southern granaries that do the stone grinding the old fashioned way, using a water mill. Nora Mills in GA and Anson Mills in SC are two you should seek out for grits perfection.

  7. Have only eat grits once .. and that was in Chicago last year – it was okay, but I don’t think I will order it again. On the other hand I like Polenta and especially grilled. Love everything about the prawns .. but I will serve them with pasta. Something for me to do next week, will come back with … post of course. with my version.
    I will put the bacon and onion with the prawns. Fantastic photos again.

  8. Stewart,
    I want to be in your family, as my family just doesn’t care for grits no matter how I fix them. All the more for me, though it does provide me with interesting ingredients for recipes.
    Perhaps I can cut this down to a single serving size.

  9. This looks wonderful! I have to admit that I have a, now lessened, negative bias against grits due to travels below the Mason Dixon and seeing chaffing dishes of them drowning in clarified butter (or oil…. I want to think it was butter). However, your reminder that grits are polenta made me laugh and agree. I need to “get over” my bias.

  10. This sound superb. I’ve actually been thinking about shrimp and grits recently, now with this great recipe I have more excuses. Time to get in the kitchen and start fixin. Thanks! -Rene

  11. Mmmmmm! Buttery polenta/grits with shrimp. Does it get any better? This seems a heavenly recipe, I can’t wait to try it. Thank you for the post! 😀

  12. This is a beautiful recipe! My mom was raised in the south and hates grits, and I, a native Californian, love them! This is a dish I will work at perfecting and making part of my culinary repertoire! I think almost anyone I know would love this (mother not included, I guess) but friends and frequent guests! So many of my friends don’t eat much meat, but somehow shrimp stays on the list! I just read dpackards comment, and I agree–heavenly!

    • Thanks. We really enjoyed the dish and feel a little sheepish that we haven’t been making it all the time. And we will serve this to guests as you can easily make it in larger proportions.

      The one area we may play around with is seasoning the butter with a bit more spice and perhaps some citrus…all fun things to try.

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