Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Garlic Shrimp Tapas)

Spanish Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)
The Spruce
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
427 Calories
30g Fat
12g Carbs
29g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Amount per serving
Calories 427
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 30g 38%
Saturated Fat 4g 22%
Cholesterol 227mg 76%
Sodium 674mg 29%
Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Protein 29g
Calcium 121mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

One of the most popular tapas, or small plates, in all of Spain is gambas al ajillo, the Spanish take on garlic shrimp or prawns. It is truly a classic Spanish tapa, enjoyed in tapas bars all over Spain, with slight variations found throughout the country, reflecting the culinary identity of each region. In Seville (in the Andalusia region), gambas al ajillo (pronounced GAHM-bahs ahl ah-HEE-yoh) is prepared with manzanilla, a favorite local sherry. In other parts of Spain, you will find brandy, sweet paprika, different varieties of hot peppers (or none at all), or lemon juice on the ingredient list. Gambas al ajillo is also called camarones al ajillo (gambas means "prawn" and camarones means "shrimp") and is sometimes traditionally served sizzling hot in a little metal pan.

Although it may taste complex, with rich, garlic flavor, this recipe is quick and simple to make at home. To make gambas al ajillo, fresh shrimp are sauteed in olive oil and lots of garlic with a touch of dried cayenne pepper, which gives the sauce a slight bite. Although optional, the dash of Spanish paprika and splash of brandy lends an authentic flavor. Serve with a nice crusty bread for sopping up the sauce.

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 large cloves garlic (finely minced)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or 2 whole dried cayenne peppers)
  • 1 pound (about 25) shrimp (deveined, shells left on)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Optional: 2 to 3 ounces Spanish brandy (or substitute dry sherry)
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves (chopped)
  • 1 baguette, sliced

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Gambas al Ajillo: Spanish Garlic Shrimp Tapas Ingredients
    The Spruce
  2. In a sauté pan or heavy frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat.

    Oil in a frying pan
    The Spruce
  3. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, lower the heat, and saute for about 1 minute or until the garlic just begins to brown, being careful not to let it burn.

    Saute in olive oil
    The Spruce
  4. Raise the heat to high and immediately add the shrimp, lemon juice, and brandy and paprika, if using. Stir well to coat the shrimp, and saute until the shrimp turn pink and start to curl, about 3 minutes.

    Cooking shrimp
    The Spruce
  5. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  6. Transfer the shrimp to a warm plate and pour over the sauce, or you can serve straight from the pan. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with slices of the fresh bread.

    Gambas al Ajillo: Spanish Garlic Shrimp Tapas
    The Spruce
  7. Enjoy.

Tips

  • As the sauce is a vital part of this recipe, it is important that you do not cook down the oil or burn the garlic, which will impart a bitter taste to the dish. Adjust the heat to make sure you are simply warming the oil and garlic and not really cooking it.
  • In Spain, gambas al ajillo is prepared with both the shells on or off depending on the chef. This recipe calls for keeping the shells on, but if you prefer, you can peel the shrimp before cooking. If you do, consider leaving the tails on, as this makes the dish more attractive and easier to pick up the shrimp with your fingers. 
  • If you are using frozen shrimp, rinse under cold water and pat dry. Allow for a longer cooking time for shrimp that are not completely thawed, and be sure to cook thoroughly.

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