Can we make #TapasTuesday a THING?? Probability is you are going to make #TapasAnyDay… or #TapasEntertainingDay… or #TapasDateNight after taking one look at my shrimp.
All of these sound wonderful. I mean, who won’t get mesmerized when some lush and plump shrimp make a grand entry sizzling and bubbling in an insaaaanely delicious sauce… Gambas al Ajillo!
WARNING : This is something where you devour the whole loaf of bread all by yourself!!
Ok, let’s talk about these shrimp. How many scampi lovers here?
If you like your scampi, your are going to love this Spanish twist on your beloved garlicky shrimp. We are just going to swap butter with “good for you” olive oil, plenty of it. So much so that those shrimp aren’t just coated but literally swim in it! This olive oil is infused with loads of garlic slivers, a little red chili, a little parsley and a little lemon.
All of these “little’s” add such a punch to the olive oil. It’s very popular not only for the shrimp, but also this decadently delicious olive oil. Nothing beats scooping the oily, garlicky shrimp onto some nice crusty bread, like my No Knead Bread, and dunking it again in that delicious olive oil.
You won’t stop until you finish all the shrimp even go after that last little piece of caramelized garlic and parsley, sopping up all that oil from your small little tapas plate… My promise!
What is Gambas al Ajillo?
The literal meaning is “Shrimp with Garlic”. This is one of the most popular and beloved tapa for any Spaniard. Andalusia, in the south of Spain, is usually credited for the origin of this cracker of a small plate.
Tapas are small plates or snacks that are served in bars and cafes all over the Spain. They aren’t exclusive to Spain anymore, bars and restaurants all over the Mediterranean and the rest of the world are adopting this popular way of eating, where people share many small plates of different foods. Sharing tapas is a wonderful way to enjoy food with your friends and family.
This is the recipe for garlic lovers, as there is a tons of garlic in tons of olive oil. Of course you can customize to your own taste, but the more authentic styles have plenty of both. And then there are very few ingredients like red chili for a kick and parsley and lemon for some zest and freshness. That’s it.
Some add sherry or brandy or even white wine to give that sauce some more flavor. Of course, there are many more variations throughout the different regions of the country, but that’s the basic simple idea of this gambas tapa!!
It comes together very quick, as the shrimp cooks in minutes. In many places you will find them cooking in terracotta pots like cazuelas, and it is brought bubbling straight to the table. We found out copper pans are great as they distribute heat evenly. Just be careful of their hot handles and use the mittens as they get very hot (Jason learned the hard way).
Terracotta cazuelas or even cast iron pans also work great.
- Shrimp – Peeled and deveined. We recommend jumbo shrimp for this one, as they are the stars. We like to keep the tails on (sometimes even the heads, as there is so much flavors there), but it’s up to you.
- Garlic – This is your second side kick. We use lots and we experiment with cutting them. Sometimes we slice them thin or thick, depending how we feel that day. But always slice them, rather than chopping.
- Olive oil – You can use any good quality olive oil or extra virgin olive oil. Again, whatever is your mood or in your cabinet. But plenty of it, that’s the authentic way. You can always put any leftover oil to good use, as we will discuss later.
- Red chilis – In Spain they add whole dried chilis in hot oil to infuse it with a bit of kick. I have seen some using fresh red chilis too. We are using red chili flakes this time.
- Dry sherry – A dash of some dry sherry, or brandy or white wine, can be added to give some additional flavor to the oil. Teetotalers can skip it and just rely on lemon juice, it’s still great.
- Salt to taste
- Fresh parsley – Chopped. It adds some color and freshness.
- Lemon – Optional, but we highly recommend it in the end.
How to Make Gambas al Ajillo
As it cooks fast and quick, you don’t want to over cook your shrimp, we recommend you prep all ingredients before you start cooking.
1. Prep. Pat dry the shrimp so they do not cause the oil to splatter. Season them generously with some kosher salt. Slice the garlic and finely chop the parsley.
2. Slightly caramelize the garlic. Add the sliced garlic and extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan. Start heating it up on low to medium heat. This way the garlic is cooked evenly and gets slightly caramelized without burning. Plus, cooking the garlic on relatively low heat helps infuse more garlicky flavor to the oil. You want to sauté it until it turns lightly golden on the edges. This step will take around 5-7 minutes.
Add in your chili flakes, stir.
3. Cook the shrimp. Bring the heat up to medium high and add in the shrimp. Sauté until they are pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
It’s important not to overcook them, as you want to retain the succulent, juicy sweetness. They will continue to cook in the hot bubbling oil as they are served straight to the table in their oily sauce.
4. Season. Add salt to taste (remember you season the shrimp with salt before, but you may need some more to flavor the sauce). Toss and follow with sherry, chopped parsley and lemon zest. Cook for a minute. Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning.
5. Serve. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and bring the dish to the table, set already with nice crusty bread and glass of your favorite wine.
ENJOY THE SIZZLE!! (did you start dunking that bread already…??)
People play with many things that go in the this great tapa.
- Play with chili. You can add some smoked Spanish paprika or even cayenne for different flavor. Or try different whole chilis.
- Play with the alcohol. It will take slightly different notes depending which wine or sherry or brandy goes in it.
- Make it even prettier. We sometimes plop in those beautiful whole cherry tomatoes along with shrimp. They look and taste beautiful together.
- Add some zing. Add lemon wedges when cooking the shrimp for that extra lemony freshness.
- Add in extra seafood. How about some calamari along with your shrimp?
- I have even seen some linked sausages added in. It’s your tapa, experiment! It doesn’t have to be same every single time, as I bet you are going to cook it many, many more times.
- Use Fresh Shrimp: For the best flavor and texture, use fresh, high-quality shrimp. If you’re using frozen shrimp, make sure to thaw them completely and pat them dry before cooking to avoid any excess water in the dish.
- Control Your Heat: Start cooking the garlic in olive oil on low to medium heat to gently infuse the oil with garlic flavor without burning it. Garlic burns easily and can turn bitter if cooked on too high heat too quickly.
- Don’t Overcook the Shrimp: Shrimp cook very quickly and can become tough and rubbery if overcooked. Keep an eye on them and remove them from the heat as soon as they turn pink and opaque.
- Quality of Olive Oil Matters: The olive oil is a key flavor component in this dish, so use the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can find.
- Wine Pairing: A dry sherry or dry white wine not only works in the recipe but also pairs beautifully when served as a drink alongside the dish. The crispness and acidity of the wine complement the richness and spice of the Gambas al Ajillo.
Though seafood is great fresh, these gambas al ajillo are also good as leftovers the next day for lunch. If you end up with leftover oil with remnants of garlic and parsley, just swirl in some noodles, it’s a great lunch option.
Refrigerate leftovers for 1-2 days in an airtight container.
Looking for other tapa to go with this Gambas al Ajillo? Try our Espinacas con garbanzos. It’s a great option for your vegetarian friends if you omit bacon. Or pair it with some fresh Spanish pipirrana salad!
Next time some you’re entertaining… or some date night perhaps… just say “Gambas Al Ajillo, por favor!!” Salut… Tapas is Liiifffeeee…
Gambas al Ajillo, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
Be sure to check out my roundup of the 30+ BEST Shrimp Recipes!
- 1.5 lbs peeled and deveined large shrimp (tail on or off)
- ¼ cup garlic
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 Tbsp dry sherry (or any dry white wine)
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- Kosher salt to taste
- Pat dry the shrimp and season with kosher salt.
- Slice the garlic thinly. Chop the parsley.
- Add sliced garlic and extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and cook on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally till they start caramelizing at the edges, about 5-7 minutes.
- Bring the heat to medium high and add in shrimp. Sauté till pink, about 3-4 minutes. Season with red chili flakes and kosher salt (Remember you had marinated shrimp in salt in the beginning, though you may want some more salt for the sauce). Give it a toss for a minute.
- Stir in dry sherry and chopped parsley and lemon zest. Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- Serve immediately bubbling hot along with some lemon wedges and crusty bread.
- Don't overcook the shrimp. They would turn rubbery and not juicy and succulent.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 422Total Fat 37gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 31gCholesterol 160mgSodium 848mgCarbohydrates 4gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 18g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.
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