Gambas al ajillo is the perfect tapa. Out of all the tapas in all the land, it takes the trophy. Why? Because there really is no simpler, universally satisfying, practically foolproof appetizer than this. And your family and friends will think you’re a genius in the kitchen. Promise.
I remember being in Barcelona during my post-college years and ordering this dish over and over again. It was such a carefree time, full of exploration and figuring out what was next in life. One thing I did know for sure was that if we were having tapas, I was ordering the shrimp.
Of course, not all bars and restaurants make it the same way. As with most Spanish dishes, you’ll find as many ways to make it as you’ll find cooks. The best time I ever had it, the dish had a strong, confident lemony side that perfectly balanced the strength of the garlic. In thinking about what makes the dish so special, that often gets missed when I order it in NYC restaurants, is that there’s never enough of the garlic sauce and bread served with it. The sauce is left as an afterthought. And that’s the whole point of the dish – to soak up the sauce! I always, always want more. It’s endlessly frustrating, so when I make it at home I always make plenty. Truth be told, it’s rare that I cook this as a tapa. I eat enough bread with it to make it a meal – usually a weekend lunch.
In my recipe, I use white wine in the sauce instead of the more traditional sherry or brandy. This is because I’m not much of a sherry drinker and don’t have it handy, but I refuse to consume this dish without a cold glass of white wine, and that is always readily available in Casa Sanchez. That said, brandy is amazing in this as well, so use what you have and pour yourself a glass while you’re at it. I told you I’d make this easy.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 1/2 teaspoon hot Spanish pimenton or smoked paprika
- 2 ounces of white wine
- 1 lemon for juice
- 20 medium or large shrimp (peeled and deveined. You can also leave the tails on)
- A pinch of salt and pepper (or to taste)
- 3 teaspoons of chopped parsley
- 1 toasted and sliced baguette for dipping
- In a heavy frying pan add the olive oil and garlic together and warm over medium heat
- Cook for a minute, then add lemon juice, white wine and paprika. Stir and let that all cook together for about two minutes
- Turn the heat up a bit and then add the shrimp
- Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper
- Cook shrimp (turning them over a few times) until they are cooked through and have turned pink and curled up at the ends – about 3 minutes.
- Place shrimp with garlic sauce into little bowls. Sprinkle with parsley.
- Serve with freshly toasted slices of bread and a glass of very cold white wine
The recipe calls for hot Spanish pimenton, which I'm able to find at my local Whole Foods. If you don't live by one or in the States for that matter, Amazon.com and other online stores do sell it.
In a pinch, you can always substitute paprika.