This gambas al ajillo or shrimps with garlic in olive oil recipe will captivate you by its simplicity and flavor, and results in perfectly cooked shrimp.
I believe that each person is the composite result of not only their genetics, but the environment from where they were raised. In that sense, I have been branded by the colors of the sunset in the Strait of Gibraltar, the snow of the mountains in Granada, and the long white sandy beaches on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
Being born and raised in southern Spain has deeply impacted many measures of my life as well as my perspective on the connections to be made between food and culture. My Greek, Roman, Arab and Jewish heritage also lend to the passion I feel for the joy of food, life, and how each aspect of such can intermingle with community and tradition.
One tradition I’ve found to be common in many cultures is the presence of seafood during celebratory events. Here in Andalusia, no wedding dinner, Christmas menu, or family gathering on Sundays is complete without seafood. Often, in our family, shrimp plays a star role.
In southern Spain, there are many regional ways to prepare shrimp, but there’s one recipe that I always come back to for its simplicity and popularity: Gambas al Ajillo. This dish (translated to ‘garlic shrimp’) is served piping hot, and is prepared using fresh shrimp, extra virgin olive oil, a lot of fresh garlic, and dried chili peppers. This dish is special to me not only because of its incredible flavor, but because it allows me to recall beautiful childhood memories. Each time I eat gambas al ajillo, I am transported back to weekends spent in the villages of Chipiona, sitting at cafes along the coast and sharing tapas with my sister, cousins and grandfather,
Based on these memories, I have developed my version of this classic l tapa that I share with you today:
- Peeled and deveined Royal red shrimps (or similar). If I make tapas portion I usually serve 3 shrimps per person, if it’s a larger plate or starter 5 or 6 per person. It also depends on the size of each shrimp.
- 5 to 7 cloves of garlic peeled and thinly sliced.
- ¾ cup of EVOO.
- Some dried cayenne/chili peppers (to your taste). If you want an extra of spicy you could use ½ tsp of harissa or hot paprika.
- 1 tbsp of sherry wine vinegar.
- Sourdough bread for soaking up the scrumptious sauce.
- Finely mince cilantro (or basil or flat-leaf parsley).
- A deep frying pan.
- Cutting board.
- Sharp knife.
Step 1. Prep and “mise en place”
This is the a fool proof recipe to cook shrimps so the perfect dish for a biginner to pretend being a completely experienced chef.
So the first step that would make the difference is to set all the ingredients perfectly measured before starting, what we call in cuisine “mise en place”.
Step 2. Cook the shrimps.
- Heat the oil in a pan at medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook it at medium heat.
- Add some drops of vinegar and the cayenne pepper, and cook it for about a minute.
- Add the shrimps, one at a time.
- Cook at medium heat flipping the shrimps to cook them both sides. Once the shrimps change their color and turn opaque, they are ready to serve. this process would take you no more than 3 or 4 minutes.
Step 3. Plate up following this order:
- put the shrimps in first place on a bowl or soup plate,
- pour the hot olive oil sauce on top but saving the garlic and chili peppers…
- that you will use to garnish on top with the fresh herbs.
1. Bread: The sauce that is created by the warmed oil and the caramelized garlic is so delicious that it would be a crime to waste it.
2. GARNISH with fresh herbs: Traditionally in Spain, this recipe is served very hot and garnished with flat-leaf parsley. However, in one of my latest trips to the South of Portugal I found out that the shrimps are usually served garnished with fresh cilantro, and since I’m not a big fan of parsley I’ve recently started to do the same with my “gambas al ajillo” recipe.
If you don´t like parsley or cilantro, then you may enjoy this dish topped with fresh chopped basil. Adding fresh herbs (of any kind) totally elevates the meal, from my point of view.
3. Fresh Shrimp: use the freshest shrimps you can find. Frozen is okay, but make sure they’re good quality and a large size. Try to avoid those teeny tiny ones.