Gambas al Ajillo or Spanish garlic shrimp is popular for good reason! Big juicy shrimp, swimming in tasty olive oil and garlic sauce. It is bright, garlicy, spicy and rich in the best way possible. Perfect with some crusty bread!
This garlic shrimp recipe comes together in just 10 minutes. Be sure to read through my tips.
This gambas al ajillo recipe is one of the more popular tapas and the easiest Spanish recipes you'll make!
Gambas al ajillo, pronounced gahm- bahs-ahl-ah- hee-yoh, simply translates to "shrimp with garlic shrimp" or "garlic shrimp." And it totally lives up to it's name: Big, juicy shrimp, swimming in a tasty, garlicy olive oil sauce. It's the perfect little dish to share along with a good loaf of crusty bread to dunk in the sauce!
This spanish shrimp recipe comes together in about 10 minutes and takes two simple components: the shrimp and the sauce.
What kind of shrimp to use for this garlic shrimp recipe?
Larger jumbo shrimp or prawns are better for gambas al ajillo. You can use smaller shrimp, but keep in mind that the shrimp will shrink a bit as it cooks. The result is defintely more impressive and far tastier using larger, more meaty and juicy shrimp.
Should you peel the shrimp? I use peeled and deveined shrimp in this recipe just because it is easier to eat, and I guess I don't want to waste the flavorful sauce on the shell. But, I learned that some Barcelona restaurants serve them with the shell on. Either way.
Cooking tip for the shrimp: In this recipe the shrimp will cook very briefly in the sauce. Even large shrimp will cook quickly, so watch for the flesh to become opaque and the shrimp pink. Remember that even when you turn the heat off, the shrimp will continue to cook in the warm sauce.
The Sauce: Ingerdients and Tips
To me, the sauce is what makes this dish! It's bright, garlicy, slightly spicy, and rich in the best way possible! Quality of the sauce ingredients and how you prepare them makes a difference. Here's what you need and a few prep tips:
- Extra virgin olive oil. This shrimp is typically made with lots of olive oil so that you have enough extra sauce for dipping. For this recipe, you'll need ½ cup of quality extra virign olive oil. Flavor really matters here, and you should only warm up the olive oil over medium heat; you're not looking to cook it too much. (I used Private Reserve EVOO).
- Garlic. Loads of garlic (about 10 to 12 good size cloves). I don't recommend using a garlic press here, it will pulverize the garlic too much and overwhlem the sauce and it can easily burn. Instead, give the garlic a good chop with your knife. And when you cook it, use only medium heat and watch for the garlic to change color just enough but be careful not to burn it (you don't want the sauce to taste bitter).
- Curshed red peppers or dry chilli peppers, torn. I used 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. You can start with less if you're worried about the spice level.
- Sweet Spanish Paprika. Some don't use it, but I think it adds good color and depth of flavor.
- Dry sherry (or white wine) and lemon juice. Together, the citrus from the alcohol and lemon juice adds flavor and brightens the sauce. Spanish brandy is also an option
- Fresh parsley for garnish
How to make this Spanish shrimp
This recipe could not be easier to make. Here's the step-by-step with photos (print-friendly recipe with ingredient measurements below)
- Pat shrimp dry and season with kosher salt. Set the peeled and deviened shrimp aside to marinate a little in the salt, while you work on the sauce. Note: If the shrimp had been frozen, run it under cool water to thaw before using in this recipe.
- Warm up the Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic, and Red Pepper Flakes. Start by warming up the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds, tossing the garlic with your wooden spoon. Watch for the garlic to gain a little color but do not let it brown (this is very important or the sauce will taste bitter).
- Cook the shrimp. Add the shrimp and 1 teaspoon paprika in. Toss in the warm oil until the flesh is opaque and the shrimp is pink (about 3 minutes or so). Do not overcook the shrimp; remember, it will continue to cook in the warm oil sauce after you remove it from heat. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Add the sherry (or white wine), lemon juice, and parsley. You'll do this off heat, you do not need to cook down the liquid here.
- Serve! Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with your favorite crusty bread.
How to serve Gambas al Ajillo?
This dish is meant for sharing as a tapa (or small dish). All you need is a loaf of good crusty bread to dunk in the tasty olive oil sauce.
You can slice and lightly toast the bread if you like, but I recently discovered that tearing up a loaf of bread into big chunks is the way to go. Those rough edges of the bread hold on to the sauce so much better!
This recipe will serve up to 6 people as an appetizer (and you can other little mezze or apptizers like caponata or next to it).
And if you want to turn it into a small dinner, why not! Serve the saucy garlic shrimp over a bed of rice.
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Gambas al Ajillo (Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe)
- Pat the shrimp dry and season with kosher salt. Set aside for now.
- Heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat up to 60 seconds or until the garlic gains some color (be careful not to burn it).
- Add the shrimp and paprika. Cook briefly, tossing regularly, and watching that the flesh turns opaque with a pearly pink color (about 3 minutes or so; this will depend on the size of the shrimp). Remove the pan from the heat.
- Stir in sherry, lemon juice and parsley.
- Transfer the shrimp and sauce to a serving bowl. Serve with your favorite crusty bread.
- This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people as a tapas or appetizer with a side of crusty bread to dip in the sauce.
- Cook's tip for the sauce. Use quality extra virgin olive oil as the flavor is important to the sauce. Do not cook the oil too much and be careful not to burn the garlic or it will make the sauce bitter.
- Cook's tip for the shrimp. Even the largest of shrimp will cook fast, so watch the shrimp carefully. The flesh should turn opaque and pearly pink in color. And remember, even when you take the pan off the heat, the warm sauce will continue to cook the shrimp.
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