Gambas al ajillo, or “shrimp with garlic” is perhaps one of the most popular tapas outside of Spain. I love shrimp, and you can’t go wrong with shrimp fried with lots of garlic and olive oil, but for me the appeal of this dish is less about the shrimp and more about the caramelized garlic and shrimp juices that settle in the bottom of the pan. Put a pan of these in front of me and I could devour a whole loaf of bread, smearing each nibble of browned garlic onto every last piece of crusty bread.
That’s why I like using elephant garlic. It’s milder than regular garlic, which means you can use a lot more of it before it becomes overpowering. It’s also a lot larger than regular garlic (think shallot sized cloves), so it’s much easier to peel and chop. For this recipe I used half of one giant clove of elephant garlic, but had I been using regular garlic it probably would have taken a whole head of garlic to get the same volume.
While this dish is usually made with chili peppers in Spain, I like using pimentón because it adds a smoky flavor that’s a perfect compliment to the browned garlic and shrimp. I’ve also left out the cognac that usually goes into gambas al ajillo in favor of a stove + oven approach that cooks the shrimp more evenly.
If for some crazy reason you end up with leftovers, just boil some pasta, drain it, and then toss the leftovers with the hot pasta. The residual heat will warm up the shrimp without making them rubbery, and the shrimp, garlic and oil make for the perfect sauce.
Gambas Al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 50 grams elephant garlic, roughly chopped (1.75 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon pimentón
- 450 grams shrimp, peeled and deveined (1 pound)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley to garnish
- Put your oven rack in the middle position and heat to 400 degrees F (200 C).
- Add the oil and garlic to a cast iron pan and heat over medium high heat. Fry the garlic until it just starts to turn brown around the edges. Add the pimentón, and stir to combine.
- Add the shrimp in a single layer, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the pan in the oven and cook until the shrimp is pink and opaque all the way through (about 2-3 minutes).
- Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the parsley. Toss the shrimp to coat with the oil and serve with bread.
Yield: 2 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.