Gambas al Ajillo or Garlic Shrimp is one of the best Spanish tapas ever! It’s a favorite all over Spain and is served in homes and tapas bars in practically every city in the country. It’s very easy to make and is sometimes cooked and/or served in a shallow terracotta or clay pot called a cazuela.
I originally learned to make gambas many years ago from my Spanish chef friend, Mari. Since then, I’ve tweaked what he taught me to come up with my own version. For one thing, in Spain gambas are traditionally cooked in plain olive oil but I like to use a blend of half olive oil and half butter. I find that the butter imparts a great flavor to this dish. It may not be very traditional, but it works for me! Mari also slices his garlic cloves in thin slices, but I prefer to mince my garlic. Some people add a little Spanish sweet paprika or pimentón to their gambas. I don’t usually do this (Mari didn’t), but you can if you want to. Also, more often than not, I make this dish without the alcohol at all and it turns out just fine.
Don’t forget the oh-so-important step of serving slices of fresh bread along with your gambas for sopping up the sauce! In my experience, the shrimp disappear fast whenever I make this dish, but they leave behind a bowl of garlicky sauce that is wonderful for dunking bread in. It’s a great way to extend the enjoyment of eating gambas even after the shrimp are all gone.
GAMBAS AL AJILLO
- 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup butter
- 10-14 large cloves garlic, minced or thinly sliced
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper (increase to ½ tsp. if you want it spicier)
- ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
- 3 Tbsp. minced parsley
- 3 Tbsp. brandy or cognac or dry sherry (optional)
- french baguette bread, sliced
- Heat olive oil and butter together over medium heat in a sauté pan.
- Sauté garlic and crushed red pepper until garlic is cooked but still tender. Don’t let the garlic brown.
- Toss in the shrimp and salt, and sauté just until shrimp turns pink.
- Stir in parsley and brandy, if using. At this point, Chef Mari would shake the pan, tilting it slightly so the alcohol would catch fire. You can skip that step. Or not. Totally up to you.
- Transfer to a shallow serving bowl or cazuela.
- Serve immediately with slices of french bread for soaking up the sauce.