How to Make Gambas al Ajillo: Spanish Garlic Shrimp Tapas

Garlic Shrimp
Sergio Amiti/Getty Images
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 4 appetizer servings
Ratings (66)

One of the most popular tapas in all of Spain, gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) is actually simple to make at home. The recipe is quick, easy, and full of garlic flavor. It is truly a classic Spanish tapa (small plate), with variations throughout the country, and enjoyed in tapas bars from the north to the south of Spain.

To make this popular dish, fresh shrimp are sauteed in olive oil and lots of garlic (this is a recipe for garlic lovers—add even more if you dare!), with a touch of dried cayenne pepper, which gives the sauce a slight bite. In many recipes a dash of Spanish paprika and a splash of brandy are included, depending on from which region of Spain the recipe comes. 

This shrimp dish should always be on the menu when you invite friends over—as an appetizer or main course—and you can almost guarantee there will never be leftovers. Don't forget to have a nice crusty bread to sop up the sauce!

What You'll Need

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 large cloves of garlic (finely minced)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or 2 whole dried cayenne peppers
  • 1 pound shrimp (25 count to a pound), 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 and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 teaspoons fresh parsley leaves (chopped)
  • 1 fresh baguette

How to Make It

  1. In a sauté pan or heavy frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 1 minute or until the garlic just begins to brown, being careful not to let it burn.
  2. Raise the heat to high and immediately add the shrimp, lemon juice, and brandy and paprika if using. Stir well to coat shrimp, then sauté until the shrimp turn pink and curl about 3 minutes.
  1. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer shrimp with oil and sauce to a warm plate or serve straight from the pan. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the fresh bread.

Tips and Variations

As the sauce is a vital part of this recipe, it is important that you don't cook down the oil, or burn the garlic which will impart a bitter taste to the dish. So make sure you are simply warming the oil and garlic and not really cooking it.

Gambas al ajillo is prepared in Spain with the shells on or off, depending on the cook. 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 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. If you prefer larger shrimp, you can purchase jumbo shrimp which will have a lower count per pound. However, 25 to a pound are a good size for this tapa. The garlic sauce is also delicious with other types of seafood such as squid and scallops.

This garlic shrimp recipe varies throughout Spain, many regions featuring local ingredients. In Seville (in the Andalusia region), the dish 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.

So feel free to play around with the recipe! Gambas al ajillo (also seen as camarones al ajillo) is also traditionally served sizzling hot in a little metal pan. 

Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
Calories 427
Total Fat 30 g
Saturated Fat 4 g
Unsaturated Fat 21 g
Cholesterol 227 mg
Sodium 674 mg
Carbohydrates 12 g
Dietary Fiber 1 g
Protein 29 g
(The nutrition information on our recipes is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. Individual results may vary.)