This classic Spanish garlic shrimp recipe for gambas al ajillo makes one of the most popular Spanish tapas dishes on the menu at tapas bars in Spain and around the world, and it’s one of our favourites. Sweet plump garlic prawns are just cooked in a fragrant, gently-spiced, garlicky virgin olive oil that’s just calling for you to mop it up with crusty bread.
Next in our series of best Spanish tapas recipes is our traditional Spanish garlic shrimp recipe – or Spanish garlic prawn recipe, depending where you live. One of our best shrimp recipes, it will make you the incredibly moreish gambas al ajillo, one of our favourite Spanish tapas. It’s also one of the easiest tapas dishes to make at home, as long as you don’t over-cook the prawns – or shrimps.
If you’ve missed our series on Spanish tapas recipes, we kicked off last month with this scrummy Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas, then shared recipes for chorizo and potato croquettes or croquetas de patata y chorizo, a chorizo in red wine recipe for chorizo al vino tinto, one of our favourite recipes with chorizo, and calamari al plancha for smoky squid cooked on a griddle.
As with so many of the recipes we’ve been sharing since the pandemic began and these travel writers could no longer travel, our Spanish tapas series is a result of a longing for Spain, Spanish food and the quintessentially Spanish experience that is the tapas bar crawl, a leisurely bar-hop from one boisterous spot to another to sip wine or vermouth as you savour tapas, small plates of snacks.
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Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe for Gambas al Ajillo – A Spanish Tapas Bar Favourite That’s Easy to Make at Home
We love nothing more than doing a Spanish tapas bar hop and spending an evening grazing on an array of Spanish tapas – small plates of snacks initially intended to soak up the booze, but which became the very reason to do a tapas bar-hop for many a food-lover who preferred the nibbles to the drinks.
We may have fell in love with the ritual of tapas bar hopping as much as we became smitten with the small dishes of food served with drinks at Spain’s atmospheric tapas bars. But at the same time we’ve long enjoyed recreating the tapas experience at home and that’s what this series of Spanish tapas recipes is all about.
The idea was to encourage you to cook up a spread of tapas dishes to graze on in the comfort of your own home, especially if, like so many people around the world who still can’t travel, you’re not planning a trip to Spain anytime soon.
There are few things like food to transport us back to places we travelled so successfully, and I think it’s the combination of sensory experiences that are the result of cooking and eating – the sound of ingredients sizzling in a pan, the fragrance of ingredients frying such as garlic and onion and chorizo and shrimp, the colours of spicy red oils and vivid green herbs, and naturally, the fantastic flavours.
Turn on the music that you bought after asking the bartender or waitress about the soundtrack at your favourite tapas bar that you returned to night after night on your last trip to Madrid or Barcelona or San Sebastian or Valencia, and open a bottle of Spanish wine and you’re set.
Just a few tips to making this Spanish garlic shrimp recipe for gambas al ajillo.
Tips to Making this Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe for Gambas al Ajillo
I only have a couple of tips to making this traditional Spanish garlic shrimp recipe for gambas al ajillo as it’s one of the easiest and quickest Spanish tapas dishes to make – yet at the same time, it’s perhaps one of the most satisfying to eat as it just takes so good.
The key to creating an incredibly delicious dish is using the best quality ingredients you can source and afford. A quality extra virgin olive oil is essential, as is good fresh garlic, which you simply want to smash or crush a little in a mortar and pestle.
Good quality shrimps or prawns are essential – we buy tiger prawns here, as much for the colour as flavour. Medium sized shrimps (or prawns!) are better than big or small, and while fresh shrimps (or fresh prawns!) are best, frozen prawns (or shrimp!!) will work as long as they’re good quality.
If you use frozen shrimp / prawns you will need to de-frost them first of course and only cook them until they’re just done, ie. as soon as they change colour, as they’ll keep on cooking and the last thing you want is soft, over-cooked, mushy prawns.
Once they’re cooked, remove the shrimps / prawns from the pan and throw whatever fragrant green leaves you’re using in, whether it’s fresh parsley or celery leaves (we prefer the latter), along with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve immediately with a spread of other tapas dishes, or at the very least sliced crusty bread to mop up that spicy garlic oil. Enjoy!
Spanish Garlic Shrimp Recipe for Gambas al Ajillo
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves - peeled, smashed in a mortar and pestle
- 2 tsp ground smoky paprika
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 400 g shrimp - prawns, raw, medium-sized, peeled and deveined
- ½ lemon - juice only
- 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley - or fresh celery leaf, roughly chopped
- To a small pan over medium heat, pour in the extra virgin olive oil and heat until hot, taking care not to let it smoke.
- Add the smashed whole garlic cloves, ground paprika and chilli flakes, and fry for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant and golden.
- Add the tomato paste, sugar, sea salt, and the shrimps, and fry until the shrimps are pink, and remove from the heat as soon as the shrimps are cooked, not a second longer, as they’ll over-cook.
- Add the juice and parsley, stir-through, transfer to a dish, and serve immediately with crusty bread, and a selection of tapas.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our Spanish garlic shrimp recipe for gambas al ajillo as we’d love to know how they turn out for you.