Gambas al Ajillo – Famous for all the Right Reasons

gambas al ajillo

Perhaps the most common, and implicitly, therefore the most popular, tapa in Spain and in Spanish restaurants world-wide, gambas al ajillo, or fried garlic shrimp, is rightfully so admired. The hot tang of garlic and red pepper flake-infused extra virgin olive oil, perfectly coating tender pink shrimp (king prawns for our UK readers), makes for a luscious and satisying dish, especially when there’s plenty of crusty bread to mop up the magnificently flavorful oil.

The other great thing about this dish is that it’s pretty cheap and incredibly simple to make. Accompanied by a green salad and washed down with a chilled glass of fino or amontillado sherry, or perhaps a flute of cava, this is a great tapa/racione or a light lunch, both in late summer and through the fall. Buen provecho!


  • 1 1/2 lb medium shrimp (about 20 medium-sized shrimp), shells removed
  • About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 head of garlic, each clove finely sliced
  • 1 tsp (or more if you like it hot) red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons white wine


  • Heat a pan to low-medium and throw in your thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes.
  • Allow the garlic to infuse the oil for about 20-25 minutes by keeping it on low to low-medium heat. You do not want it to sound as though it is cooking the garlic quickly. It should not take on color immediately. This will really flavor your olive oil.
  • After about 20 minutes, heat another pan up until it is very hot. Throw a few tablespoons of the garlic-infused oil into the hot pan and then throw in your shrimp.
  • Immediately after, pour in a bit of white wine and allow to cook down about a minute. Continue to toss the shrimp so they begin to cook on both sides.
  • Add the rest of your garlic oil and cook for another minute or two until shrimp are pink and cooked all the way.
  • Serve immediately with lots of good bread.

gambas al ajillo

Note: This dish is actually not authentically made, but I’ve played around with this dish a few times and I love the way garlic can really infuse oil – to me it gives a much stronger garlic flavor to the dish – if cooked more slowly. Traditionally, this dish is made in a cazuela (shallow clay ramekin) either on the stovetop or in a crazy hot oven. If you own a cazuela or similar type of vessel, heat it until it’s screaming hot and then toss everything in at once. You’ll probably only need to cook for about a minute (the garlic should be pretty dark and crispy) before it’s ready to serve.

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27 thoughts on “Gambas al Ajillo – Famous for all the Right Reasons

  1. I like to use my huge nabe for this type of cooking (if only I had a kitchen large enough for every cooking vessel!).

    I adore shrimp with chili and garlic. Just love it. Skip the salad and just soak up all the garlicky oil with a loaf of bread!

  2. Mmmm, yeah… one of my favourites!!!! Ahhh it’s been quite a long time since I last had them! You say it’s cheap? You know how much a kilo of gambas cost here? Today were 55 Euros per kilo fresh. And this is incredibly cheap. They normally cost 70 or so.

    If you buy a dozen is ok but if everybody in the family wants its share… uff uff

  3. That really is a great way to end the summer. I can’t believe I just said the summer is ending… too bad. I guess we just have to look forward to Fall Flavors.

    Wait a min, I made you feel old with Duck Hunt? How old are you guys? Just tell me the first number… I was thinking it barely started with a 3.

  4. heather – right on … bread only. i don’t know what the f jonny was thinking about a salad. we did not even have a salad w/ this tapa! only bread! he must be smoking something he didn’t share w/ me.

    lisa – that’s right!! mmmm… cava.

    nuria – you kidding me? that’s crazy talk! but, i would pay alot more money if I could buy shrimp with their heads attached here in my neighborhood. still no luck.

    peter – welcome home!

    and adam – i know you’re not that much younger (our ages do begin with a 3… i’m not afraid of my age! 32… but that duck hunt graphic made me realize how things are SO different now w/ the whole “gaming” thing. shit, it’s even called “gaming” – i don’t get it!and i too am so sad that summer is ending. so lame!!! i do love the fall, though!

  5. HI guys, from Paris!

    The camaronnes (spelling?) look great.
    I like a Spanish chile powder in mine.

    Not too much shrimp here in France, but they seem to have a lot of duck!

    Regards, Stacey

  6. Oh, dear. This is fantastic.
    And I’m going to agree with all of you who think this would be perfect with a loaf of crusty bread and some time alone. Divine.

    Reminds me of the Mexican Camarones al Mojo de Ajo (which adds a bit of spice and lime to the mix, along with all that garlic). Really superb.

  7. After years of stupidly telling myself I don’t like seafood, I’m now trying to make up for lost time and actually learn about. I only recently realized how awesome shrimp are (was I ignorant, or what?) and I LOVE the sound of this! Simple, but it sounds so flavorful.

  8. Yeah, baby! And WHERE is Núria buying her shrimps? *faints* We get them WAY cheaper here in the Canaries. Size 4 whole prawns are only 9.95 euros a kilo, and for size 3 it’s 14.95 euros. The larger ones are slightly more expensive, but smaller ones are best for “al ajillo” imo. Bee-yoo-tee-ful dish! 😀

  9. canarygirl – you’re right, where is Nuria buying her shrimp, and if they are that expensive they must be good, methinks! I wonder if she means gambas rojas? Now, they are some superior crustaceans!! These were just the meduim, farmed variety, but still delicious and very garlicky.

    psychgrad – i’ve never heard of too much shrimp being detrimental to ones health. how much is too much, anyway?

    mike – get with psychgrad on the shrimp thang and start making up for lost time. one of the most glorious foods in the world.

    and to everyone else, including my lovely wife, who mentioned sopping up the oil with bread and made fun of my suggestion of accompanying it with a salad: perhaps I was being unforgiveably European in my outlook (i am European), but rare is the occasion when you visit any bar, restaurant, tasca, cafe, taverna, pub, brasserie, bistro, osteria, etc., and are not served a basket of crusty bread with your meal, so I was assuming the presence of oil-sopping baked goods. The salad was simply another way of adding even more extra virgin olive oil to the meal. you’d think i’d suggested a side of roasted baby…

  10. You inspired me: I had some nice big Florida shrimp in the freezer from a Whole Foods sale a while back, and I did pretty much what you said. I used Spanish smoked paprika instead of chili flakes, though. Delicious! Though I broke the rules and served with pasta & chopped fresh local herbs & tomato for the remaining oil, rather than bread.


  11. This definitely looks like a satisfying dish. The ingredients sound so fresh and altogether inviting. I bet this would even taste delicious tossed up with pasta :). We would love to feature your recipe on our blog and possibly our kitchen digital reader. Please email me at if you’re interested. Have a wonderful day!

  12. This looks so simple and amazing. I know I’ve had this as a tapa in restaurants. I’m definitely trying this at home — and will have lots of crusty bread on hand! Thanks!

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