Gambas al Ajillo: Spanish Garlic Shrimp

Garlic Shrimp
Sergio Amiti/Getty Images
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 4 appetizer servings
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One of the most popular tapas in all of Spain, gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) is quick, easy and full of garlic flavor. It's truly a classic Spanish tapa, 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 (whole or flakes), and occasionally a dash of Spanish paprika and a splash of brandy. The pinch of red pepper flakes gives the sauce a slight bite.

This shrimp dish should always be on the menu when you invite friends over, and there are sure never to be leftovers. Your guests will be asking for the recipe after they taste the first shrimp, and only you will know how simple it was to prepare. 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 tsp. red pepper flakes, or 2 whole dried cayenne peppers
  • 1 lb. shrimp (25 count to a pound)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 to 3 oz. (60 to 89 ml) Spanish brandy (or substitute dry sherry), optional
  • Optional: 1 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika 
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tsp. fresh parsley (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, but 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, then sauté until the shrimp turn pink and curl, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and transfer shrimp with oil and sauce to a warm plate or serve right from the pan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with the fresh bread.

    Notes on Shrimp

    • This recipe is prepared in Spain with the shells on or off, depending on the cook. So, if you prefer, peel the shrimp before cooking.
    • If you like larger shrimp, purchase shrimp with a fewer count to a pound. However, 25 to a pound are a good size for this tapa.
    • 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.